Grain flow: will Russia be able to build its own bulk fleet
Russia intends to acquire its own fleet, which will be able to deliver to any point on the planet everything that is produced, grown or mined in our country. The realization that such vessels are necessary came, as usual, when it turned out that this still had to be done “yesterday”.
Russian grain exporters need at least 60 bulk carriers with a deadweight of 40 to 60 tons. These are ships that can transport grain, coal, and other bulk goods across the oceans. Today there is not a single grain carrier in Russia, and all these vessels have to be chartered in other countries. Naturally, business here interferes policy and using foreign companies is becoming increasingly difficult. The situation is similar with the export of coal, mineral fertilizers and other goods. Russia provides only 30% of all its export deliveries with its own dry cargo ships.
Adding to the complexity of chartering is the fact that China is recovering from the pandemic, increasing the volume of purchases, which in turn increases the demand for large-capacity vessels that are used in transcontinental transportation. For example, the cost of chartering coal bulk carriers has tripled over the past year. The purchase price of giant bulk carriers also rose sharply. Now you can buy a 10-year-old Capsize bulk carrier (with a deadweight of more than 150 tons) at only 10-15% less than the cost of a new vessel.
A thunderstorm broke out, a rooster pecked and the clumsy machine of the Russian shipbuilding industry set into motion. If only 100 ships were produced in Russia over the past decade, then by the end of 2027, the plants should build about 260 ships.
The numbers look convincing, but what's the reality? Is it possible in Russia to sharply increase the production of large-tonnage dry cargo ships, moreover, in conditions when it is necessary to go all the way from the creation of a project to the complete replacement of all foreign equipment that has fallen under sanctions.
There are not so many factories in Russia capable of making giant bulk carriers. This may be SSK Zvezda, which has experience in building Aframax tankers with a deadweight of more than 110 tons, Severnaya Verf, Baltiysky Zavod, and a number of other large enterprises. Here it is important to understand that in the civil sector the most popular in Russia were dry-cargo ships of the "river-sea" class with a deadweight not exceeding 10 thousand tons. They cannot be used for transportation over long distances, so the country needs to start, as they say, “from the drawing board”. Fortunately, the road has already been beaten by other maritime powers.
The first projects of Russian giant bulk carriers are already being developed at the Krylov State Research Center. The designers were tasked with presenting designs for dry cargo ships with a deadweight of 40 and 60 thousand tons by November. For comparison: the old Soviet "Volgo-Balts" could carry cargo 10 times less.
It is planned to hand over the first dry cargo ship to the customer at the end of 2025 - beginning of 2026. Then 2-3 vessels of this type will be built annually.
The difficulty for designers is that all foreign components in the courts must be replaced with domestic ones. The task is difficult, but doable. For example, the project of crab fishers, which are now being made at a small shipyard in Petrozavodsk, had to be changed during the imposition of sanctions, moving away from the use of foreign components. They coped with the task, and in mid-June the flag was hoisted on the lead ship of the project. Another crab fisherman is getting ready for sea trials.
To speed up production, you do not need to build new factories. It is enough to modernize the existing ones. The creation of a “digital shipyard”, when all the equipment at the plant works in a single networked computer link, and modern machines cut and weld the hull with high precision, makes it possible to speed up production by at least 2 times.
The Ministry of Industry and Trade even calculated the amount that needs to be invested in domestic shipbuilding capacities in order to provide Russia with its own merchant fleet. About 500 billion rubles came out.
The amount will not seem astronomical if we add to it the costs of creating the infrastructure of the Northern Sea Route. Not so long ago, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin announced that about 13 trillion rubles would be invested in the NSR over the next 2 years.
Now it is this transport artery that is considered as the most reliable and fastest way to deliver goods to our friendly countries - read China. That is why, in addition to dry cargo ships, several icebreakers are being made at the shipyards at once. From the leading giant "Russia" of the "Leader" project to small diesel ships that will operate in the port area. The development of the NSR entails a reduction in logistics costs, which will make the same grain trade with China more profitable. Today, wheat from Russia to the Middle Kingdom goes mostly through land corridors.
Simultaneously with the northern ports, the infrastructure in the southern direction is also being modernized. The United Grain Company is currently reconstructing the terminal in order to increase grain export capacity by more than XNUMX times. Today, Türkiye is Russia's main economic partner.
Another potential partner could be the countries of Latin America. They traditionally import grain from other regions, such as North America and Argentina, which are geographically closer and have trade links with that region.
Nevertheless, in recent years, Russia has been actively looking for new markets for its grain, and Latin America may be of interest to Russian exporters. Possible benefits for Latin American countries may include lower prices for Russian grain and the possibility of diversifying suppliers.
Of course, big plans to capture the world market, given the pace that Russian shipyards can still produce (and this, with all the desire, no more than 8-10 large-tonnage dry cargo ships per year), Russia still cannot do without a third-party fleet or the purchase of ready-made ships or the same bulk carriers on the secondary market.
Since the beginning of the year, such a mass purchase began. Until 2034, it is planned to purchase about 85 ships, most of which are bulk carriers, and more than 10 ships are dry cargo ships of the Capesize type - giants that do not even fit in the Suez Canal. Vessels aged 10-15 years are purchased. Considering that they have been working for about 30-40 years, the planning horizon becomes obvious, beyond which the prospect of creating a full-fledged Russian merchant fleet looms. Whether this is so - we will find out by 2040. So far, all bets are on domestic shipbuilding.
- Author: Mikhail Platonov