Quite recently, the giant container ship Ever Given was the main object of popular excursions in the Dutch port of Rotterdam. Tickets worth € 10.95 flew like hot cakes. Passengers from a ferry could watch the container ship with binoculars during unloading. The trip lasted 90 minutes.
It seemed there was nothing interesting here: to observe the banal unloading of containers? But a selfie with this 400-meter-long celebrity was worth the money paid for the tour, because the audience saw the same Ever Given, the name of which is now known to almost every schoolchild. The ship became famous after it blocked the Suez Canal as a result of an incident, which actually blocked the world’s major transport artery, and a queue of 450 loaded ships grew on both sides of it. The damage caused by the blocking of the Suez Canal exceeded $1 billion. The world media began to trumpet a new «Suez crisis». A week later, the ill-fated container ship was re-floated through joint efforts. But, as they say, «an aftertaste remained.»
The incident has prompted representatives of the global shipping industry to pay attention to an alternative route – the Northern Sea Route passing through the Russian sector of the Arctic that makes it possible to deliver goods from Europe to the countries in the Pacific region along a shorter route. The government’s Rossiyskaya Gazeta’s headline read, “The incident in Suez Canal is a signal for global logistics providers in favor of the Northern Sea Route.”
Ivan Timofeev, Program Director of the Russian Council for International Affairs, is also confident that «the international component of the Northern Sea Route will grow,» although the «Suez crisis» alone is unlikely to speed up the development of the route: «It will be impossible to reroute traffic immediately, we need vessels of the appropriate class and a new infrastructure.»
Space beyond the Arctic Circle, where 13% of the world’s oil reserves are concentrated, has become a field of fierce rivalry between the great Arctic powers, if not a battle, in recent years. Russia is actively increasing its military component in the Arctic, but it does not forget about civilian products as well. Today, Moscow has four advanced nuclear icebreakers in the Arctic, and four more are under construction at the Baltic Shipyard. For comparison: the American «partners» have only two “old» ones, of which only one USCGC Polar Star, built in the mid-1980s, is in service.
Alexander Pinsky, General Director of the Marinet Industry Center, an autonomous non-profit organization, calls the Arctic «a platform for the development of innovative shipbuilding». Noting Russia’s leadership in the development of nuclear-powered ships, he also names another promising avenue for the development of the Arctic. These are sea and river small and medium passenger vessels able to provide year-round transport accessibility in Arctic conditions at an acceptable cost.
Of course, all this may be a matter of the future, but Russian shipbuilders are already thinking about it today. As Alexey Rakhmanov, the head of the United Shipbuilding Corporation, noted at a recent meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the company today sees alternative opportunities for transporting cargo from Russia and through Russia to Europe. And this is not only the Northern Sea Route.
Container ships, built at the USC shipyards, will be able to deliver cargo from the Iranian port of Enzeli on the Caspian Sea to Helsinki in 17 days: «Astrakhan in this sense may become a base point for container transshipment, and containerization today works very effectively for grain and perishable fruits (if refrigerated sections are used). Similarly, tanks, in which sunflower oil can be transported, are inserted into containers,» Alexey Rakhmanov told the president.
The sunflower oil spilled by Bulgakov’s Annushka, which launched a well-known chain of events, can be recalled in connection with modern shipping. Here, just as in the famous novel (The Master and Margarita), we need to make it on time, because fleet technology upgrade processes under way are truly revolutionary.
Unmanned vessels are called the future of the industry. Not without reason Norway, one of the trendsetters in shipbuilding, made a bet on them. At the end of last year, the experimental unmanned battery container ship Yara Birkeland, the customer of which was fertilizer manufacturer Yara International, made its maiden voyage.
Russia has a good position in the field of unmanned or autonomous vessels, says Alexander Pinsky, General Director of the Marinet Industry Center: «Russia is now a global leader in the development and introduction of these technologies in the practice of shipping companies.» Among the vessels of this category, the expert notes autonomous vehicles for dangerous or monotonous work: «The latter are already in demand today not only in the military sphere, but also in a wide range of tasks where the use of traditional vessels with a crew is less cost-effective or dangerous for humans: maintenance and monitoring of oil and gas fields, seismic exploration, weather and environmental monitoring, fishery resources monitoring, as well as maritime security.»
Pinsky is confident that successful development in these segments will not only allow Russian shipbuilders to penetrate international markets, but also increase the level of national security: «Internationally competitive innovations generated in civil shipbuilding will automatically increase also the level of military shipbuilding, as well as reduce Russia’s dependence on foreign manufacturers.»
Unmanned catamarans may well use hydrogen as a fuel. The French catamaran Energy Observer launched in 2017 was first such vessel. USC sees hydrogen as a promising fuel. «This is one of the alternatives that nevertheless builds on the AIP theme, namely the use of hydrogen and oxygen as the main fuel for electric power generation,» said USC CEO Alexey Rakhmanov at the Army Forum in 2019.
The transportation of hydrogen itself, which is seen as the basis for the energy of the future, also provides many opportunities. According to Anatoly Chubais, the special representative of the President of Russia for relations with international organizations, the country has «unprecedented chances» to occupy half of the European hydrogen market, which will amount to 10 million tons in 2030.
USC strives to increase the share of civil shipbuilding every year. Stories about many projects implemented in recent years began with the word «for the first time». Thus, the passenger liner Mustai Karim became the first large cruise ship built in the country in 60 years. The four-deck passenger ship is designed to accommodate 342 passengers. Contrary to the opinion of those who are nostalgic for the Soviet era today, in the USSR, where excellent warships were built, few thought about domestically-built cruise ships. They were built in the GDR and Czechoslovakia, and later in Austria to Soviet orders. And the legendary motor ship Mikhail Svetlov (actually Pobeda) – the same one on which Semyon Semyonych Gorbunkov from the popular Soviet comedy The Diamond Arm went on an overseas cruise – came from the free city of Danzig (launched in 1928).
The situation was similar with fishing vessels. The seas are still plowed by sturdy seiners built at shipyards of once «fraternal» Poland. However, vessels for their replacement are already under construction. Owing to the government’s «keel quotas» for building fishing vessels, USC enterprises have signed contracts for the construction of four dozen fishing vessels. Among them is a 160-meter supertrawler.
Building a modern fishing fleet is an opportunity for Russia to look worthy in comparison with the major fishing powers, engaging in ocean fishing in open areas of the World Ocean and in the sea zones of foreign countries. Alexander Pinsky, General Director of the Marinet Industry Center, calls a fleet for harvesting aquatic biological resources «another avenue of innovative shipbuilding». State support for fishing vessel manufacturers «may become the basis for making and testing a whole line of equipment that is in demand on the world market,»Pinsky believes.
Here, the expert confident, there’s room not only for Russian shipbuilders, but also for domestic developers and manufacturers of innovative equipment for fishing vessels and digital fish processing lines on board the vessels, manufacturers of competitive fish-hunting equipment. As in other industrial sectors, the sanctions forced machine-building companies to engage in import substitution and it suddenly turned out that we can do a lot of things ourselves again. And if we can, then we will.
The incident in the Suez Canal is a signal for global logistics providers in favor of the Northern Sea Route
Russia has a good position in the field of unmanned vessels