Why the Northern Sea Route can never replace the Suez Canal

Four days have passed since the container ship "Ever Given" blocked the Suez Canal, one of the key transport and logistics arteries in the world. News sharply stirred up the Russian expert community; the longer the vessel covers Suez, the louder the voices of enthusiasts who are confident in the redistribution of the world sea freight market - in particular, they predict a great success for the Northern Sea Route (hereinafter - NSR) and the Trans-Siberian Railway.

In this material, I propose to briefly familiarize ourselves with the veracity of such statements and find out whether lobbying for the use of the Northern Sea Route has any prospect.

Some statistics: the number of ships involved in the "Suez Plug" as of March 26:

- 143 ships are anchored in Gorky Lake
- 282 ships are in Port Said
- 3111 ships are in the Suez area.

The main thesis of the NSR's profitability is its shorter length in comparison with Suez; According to enthusiasts, it would be more profitable for China to bring goods directly to Europe, bypassing the Indo-Pacific region and the African coast.

However, they do not take into account that economy sea ​​transportation is not limited to the length of the route alone. For goods transported by water, the speed of transportation is not so critical, and when it comes to "distance", this term refers to the fuel savings achieved due to the reduction in route time. The decline in oil prices, however, brought down the cost of marine fuel - as a result, any gain from using the Northern Sea Route becomes less significant; in turn, active maneuvering among ice fields significantly increases fuel consumption.

Separately, it should be said that the economics of cargo transportation is highly dependent on insurance conditions, which, in turn, depend on risk assessment. Arctic shipping carries many "pitfalls" associated, in particular, with the guaranteed provision of services necessary for navigation - and this is not only about the risk of damage in the event of a collision with ice. Requires constant icebreaker support, navigation, hydrographic, meteorological and customs escort of ships. The Northern Sea Route is extremely tightly tied to the number and operational activity of icebreakers - and this carries serious additional risks: if the icebreaker ship is not at the right time and in the right place, then dry cargo ships will be forced to stand idle, similar to what is happening now in the Suez Canal ...

An equally important element of the attractiveness of the sea route is a well-developed port infrastructure. For modern container transportation, it is not so much speed and distance that are important, but also schedule compliance. The pace of the ship's progress, in turn, depends on the conditions of accessibility of approaches to the port infrastructure, pilotage support, mooring, technical support of the port - this, of course, is not only loading and unloading ships, but also the ability to replenish supplies, carry out bunkering, provide repairs and hire additional crew members. Thus, maritime logistics is tightly tied to a well-developed port infrastructure capable of providing the entire required range of services - this helps to reduce the number of risks associated with ship delays. Today, the Northern Sea Route has only one deep-water port - Murmansk.

The NSR is also not famous for the simplicity of navigation conditions - the complex system of seas and straits with difficult ice conditions greatly influences the choice of the route. For example, the straits through which the Northern Sea Route is laid seriously limit the draft and tonnage of ships that can pass through them.

Thus, the depth of the Kara Gates Strait is 21 m, and the Sannikov Strait is 13 m. Container ships with a capacity of no more than 4500 TEU (Twenty Foot Equivalent Unit is a conventional unit for measuring the capacity of freight vehicles. It is often used when describing the capacity of container ships and container ships). terminals Based on the volume of a 20-foot (6.1 meters) intermodal ISO container). The "discoverer" of the Northern Sea Route, the Danish container ship "Venta Maersk", which crossed the transport artery in 2018 with a cargo of frozen fish and electronics, had a capacity of 3600 TEU - this figure is significantly less than the capacity of most ships passing through the Suez Canal daily.

At the moment, the most common type of container ships in the world is the so-called. "Panamax-class" with a capacity of 5000 to 12000 TEU - and this is not to mention the giants "Triple E-Class", designed for 18200 TEU. Even if we assume that such a ship will end up in the Arctic (the straits can theoretically be deepened, as well as a network of northern ports), it will need escort of at least two icebreakers to successfully pass through the Northern Sea Route.

The most, perhaps, the main question is different - what to transport through the NSR? Experts say that the Arctic route cannot be a full-fledged replacement for the southern sea routes: the temperature regime does not allow the transportation of most of the goods following the Suez Canal, and the infrastructure issue rises in full growth from a completely unexpected angle: container ships traveling from Southeast Asia to Europe , have several stops at ports along the way, where they carry out unloading and loading of goods. For example, if we are talking about the industrial products of the PRC, then the share of Europe in maritime transport falls less than 20% of the total volume of goods sold; to Northern Europe - about 3%. More than 50% of the total trade turnover is made up of the Pacific region, and the rest of China's imports and exports go to the United States. The Northern Sea Route, in turn, does not have ports where it is possible to buy and sell manufactured goods, and raw materials, oil, gas and fish are exported within the existing infrastructure.

Our railway transport routes have really broad prospects - for example, over the past year, due to the jump in the cost of sea freight, container traffic on the Trans-Siberian Railway increased by 15%; in this regard, the Baikal-Amur Mainline was also actively involved (there are plans to expand it and build a second branch), but further expansion of the volume of freight transportation by rail is facing capacity constraints, and a radical solution to this problem is not expected in the near future.

Summing up, it should be said that Russia, of course, needs to carry out further work to improve the attractiveness of sea transportation by the Northern Sea Route - this enterprise, of course, has considerable prospects, albeit with very specific restrictions that will not allow the NSR to become an equivalent replacement for the Suez Canal - so or otherwise, the difficult climatic and geographical conditions of the Arctic route impose considerable difficulties, which, however, with a reasonable approach, will not prevent us from deriving economic benefits for our country.
Dear reader, to leave comments on the publication, you must sign in.
  1. Dimy4 Offline Dimy4
    Dimy4 (Dmitriy) 28 March 2021 11: 15
    That's all, we hammer into the Northern Sea Route, we help to pull out "Ever Given". We are sending the barge haulers.
    1. Vladest Offline Vladest
      Vladest (Vladimir) 28 March 2021 11: 52
      In 1069 Suez was closed for 4 years. Do you remember that?
      1. General Black Online General Black
        General Black (Gennady) 28 March 2021 14: 25
        In 1069 Suez was closed for 4 years. Do you remember that?

        Yes, of course we remember Toragoy drukh. Just 27 years earlier than the first crusade. Of course we remember. This is how it was yesterday.
        1. Vladest Offline Vladest
          Vladest (Vladimir) 31 March 2021 00: 31
          It was in 1969 year
      2. 123 Offline 123
        123 (123) 28 March 2021 14: 48
        In 1069 Suez was closed for 4 years. Do you remember that?

        Vaguely No. Is it under the rule of Caliph Maad al-Mustansir Billah? Times were cruel, a year earlier Cairo was sacked. I don't remember about the channel request
        Or do you mean BC during the reign of Ramses XI?
      3. Ulysses Offline Ulysses
        Ulysses (Alexey) 28 March 2021 22: 07
        In 1069 Suez was closed for 4 years. Do you remember that?

        With the second figure, of course, you got into a mess, but can you present the figures for cargo turnover through the Suez in 1969 and 2021 for comparison ??
        Much will become clear ...
      4. Badger Offline Badger
        Badger (Dmitriy) 29 March 2021 10: 31
        It was dug by ancient Ukrainians and, naturally, after a thousand years of operation, reconstruction was required. wassat
      5. fil224 Offline fil224
        fil224 (Nikolai) April 6 2021 11: 53
        More precisely: How sailors got stuck for 8 years in the Suez Canal

        In June 1967, due to the military conflict between Israel and Egypt, dubbed the "Six Day War", the Suez Canal was blocked on both sides due to the deliberate flooding of several ships in the fairway by Egyptian forces. In addition to the sunken ships, several sea mines were planted that impeded navigation. 15 ships of different nationalities became hostages: 2 of them belonged to the FRG, 2 to Sweden, 2 to Poland, 4 to Great Britain, 1 each to the USA, Norway, Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria, another American ship was cut off from the rest. The six-day war, as you might guess, ended quickly, but the clearing of the canal dragged on. 14 blocked vessels anchored at the widest point of the channel called Bolshoye Gorkoye Lake.
        In October 1967, all 14 captains and crews, having gathered on board the British ship "Melampus", founded the "Big Bitter Lake Association". She supported mutual aid, leisure activities, and even produced her own postage stamps. Crews shared supplies, hosted sporting events, film screenings and parties. The Norwegian ship was famous for its excellent cuisine, the Polish one for a highly qualified doctor, the Swedish for the gym and swimming pool, and the Germans gladly shared a load of chilled Australian grapes with their Bulgarian colleagues, who drove rakia out of it for general needs, and a yacht club was also organized by joint efforts. In 1968, primarily to draw attention to the problem, with the support of the British press, in parallel with the Olympics in Mexico City, the Olympic Games on Bitter Lake were organized. The winners in the team event were the Poles, the second - the Germans, the third - the British. Among other things, the command allowed the use of alcohol, and in July 1969, the captain of one of the British ships estimated the number of empty beer bottles thrown overboard at one and a half million pieces.
        Over time, the problem was partially solved - in 1969 the ships were combined into groups in order to reduce the number of crews required for service, and 3-month shift watches were also organized. The blockade of the channel itself was completely lifted only in 1975. The only ships, the technical condition of which made it possible to return to the home port on their own, were the German Münsterland and Nordwind. On May 24, 1975, they reached the port of Hamburg, where they were greeted by over 30 spectators. For Münsterland, this marked the end of a journey to Australia that lasted eight years, three months and five days.
  2. Alsur Offline Alsur
    Alsur (Alexey) 28 March 2021 11: 27
    A real assessment of the state of affairs, in the article everything is laid out on the shelves. It is for the reasons indicated in the article that it will not be long before the regular escorts of commercial caravans will be carried out along the NSR. And everything is indicated correctly for Russian Railways.
  3. Vladest Offline Vladest
    Vladest (Vladimir) 28 March 2021 11: 51
    Why is it always so categorical?

    Why the Northern Sea Route can never replace the Suez Canal

    In life, there is revenge for everything. The share is important. And there is a use for SevMorPut.
  4. Jacques sekavar Offline Jacques sekavar
    Jacques sekavar (Jacques Sekavar) 28 March 2021 13: 31
    Why the Northern Sea Route can never replace the Suez Canal

    1. Requires the replacement of the merchant fleet with ice-class ships and smaller displacement
    2. Lack of port, repair and other infrastructure
    3. Difficulties of navigation in the polar regions
  5. Brancodd Offline Brancodd
    Brancodd 28 March 2021 16: 33
    The depth of the Suez Canal is 20 m.The specified Sannikov Strait has a depth of 24 m.
    Sovcomflot's gas carrier Christophe de Margerie with a cargo of reduced gas from the Yamal LNG project crossed the Northern Sea Route eastward from the port of Sabetta to the port of Tanshan (Hebei province, China). 2360 nautical miles from Sabetta to Cape Dezhnev (Chukotka Peninsula) the tanker passed in 7 days 17 hours
    For navigation in northern latitudes, we launched the Arktika-M satellite. And next year we are planning another one. In total, the grouping will include 5 vehicles. The latter, according to the plan, should be launched in 2025. The new satellites will conduct round-the-clock all-weather monitoring of the atmosphere, surface at the Earth's poles and ice conditions in the seas of the Arctic Ocean in any weather.
    Leader-class icebreakers will provide year-round navigation in the eastern part of the northern sea route. Icebreakers Arktika-M will operate in the western part.
    The very positive thing is that they are sure that we will not succeed. It's a good news. It is their confidence that works for us.
  6. Vadim D Offline Vadim D
    Vadim D (Vadim D) 28 March 2021 18: 47
    That is, container trains run "from point to point", but ships cannot?
  7. Marciz Offline Marciz
    Marciz (Stas) 28 March 2021 20: 48
    Brothers, don't cry for the NSR SOON The Arctic will melt and everything will be hockey !!!))))
  8. SASS Offline SASS
    SASS (sass) 28 March 2021 21: 03
    Solid experts-hackers (like psaki) ... Boring, girls.))
  9. Ulysses Offline Ulysses
    Ulysses (Alexey) 28 March 2021 22: 14
    For goods transported by water, transportation speed not so critical,

    You can not read further. bully

    The total loss of world trade due to the blockage of the Suez Canal by the container ship Ever Given could amount to about $ 230 billionAllianz, one of the world's largest insurance companies, said in a report.

    PS The author, can generally bury the Panamanian, Suez canals, from them only problems? repeat
  10. Danila46 Offline Danila46
    Danila46 (Daniel) 29 March 2021 00: 48
    What is the northern route ?! What icebreakers !? Now Israel will hurry up and prophesy through the Negev. And in Suetz, Egypt will breed Nile perch ...
  11. Natan bruk Offline Natan bruk
    Natan bruk (Nathan Brook) 29 March 2021 09: 40
    That's it, the ship is afloat. We disperse, dreamed and woke up.
    1. Marzhecki Offline Marzhecki
      Marzhecki (Sergei) 29 March 2021 11: 13
      What, didn’t write nasty things about Russia, was the day in vain?
      1. Natan bruk Offline Natan bruk
        Natan bruk (Nathan Brook) 29 March 2021 14: 17
        Yes, I didn’t seem to write anything about Russia.
  12. Brancodd Offline Brancodd
    Brancodd 29 March 2021 11: 15
    Disruption in the delivery schedule will be until mid-summer
    As a result, Russian Railways today is the largest linear operator for the delivery of goods from Asia to Europe. MAERSK is the second.
  13. Vladest Offline Vladest
    Vladest (Vladimir) 31 March 2021 00: 35
    Well, that the vessel was removed from the shallows and something in the world cracked? However, they have already forgotten about the congestion.
  14. Valery Prokhorov (Valery Prokhorov) April 28 2021 08: 22
    As they say never say never. Suez was also not always there, but they took and dug. And there is no need to dig the SMP.