By T.Ramakrishnan/The Hindu
Chennai, August 15: India’s engagement with Russia’s Arctic region has been strengthening with India-bound goods constituting the maximum share of cargo handled this year by Murmansk, located about 2,000 km northwest of Moscow.
In the first seven months of 2023, Murmansk port, the main northern gateway of Russia and a transhipment hub, handled eight million tonnes of cargo. Of this, India accounted for 35% of cargo.
“Mostly, it is coal,” Andrey Andreevich Dotsenko, Deputy Director – Commercial Director of the JSC Murmansk Sea Commercial Port, told a group of visiting journalists from India, Turkey and Egypt. He added that the coal was bound for the eastern coast of India, without elaborating.. Turkey and China were among other countries served by the Murmansk port with the former’s share being 34% and the latter’s, 13%.
India was also getting involved in the Northern Sea Route (NSR), which is the shortest shipping route connecting the western part of Eurasia and the Asia-Pacific region. “The record supplies of energy resources for the Indian economy are possible due to such a reliable and safe transport artery as the NSR,” Rosatom State Nuclear Energy Corporation said.
But there are challenges in navigating the 5,600-km-long NSR. The route includes the seas of the Arctic Ocean [Kara, Laptev, East Siberian and Chukchi] which remain icebound during most parts of the year. It is in this context that icebreaking assumes importance, a task being performed by FSUE Atomflot, a subsidiary of Rosatom and the fleet operator of nuclear-powered icebreakers.
Asked whether NSR was being promoted as an alternative to the Suez Canal, Leonid Aleksandrovich Irlitsa, Director General of FSUE Atomflot, answered that it would reduce the gap between Europe and countries in the Asia-Pacific region.
To give an illustration about the distance that the NSR could bridge, the route from Murmansk to Yokohama in Japan across the Arctic Ocean, including the NSR, is about 6,000 nautical miles (NM). Alternatively, the distance via the traditional shipping routes is about 13,000 NM. Rosatom is of the view that with the efficiency and safety of navigation along the NSR, the carbon footprint of maritime transport can be reduced not only due to the shorter shipping route but also due to the operation of nuclear-powered icebreakers and lighter carriers. In 2022, NSR’s cargo traffic was approximately 34 million tonnes, two million tonnes higher than the target. It was barely 3.87 million tonnes in 2012.
As part of efforts to explore more collaboration in the development of the NSR, India and Russia are considering a sea-corridor proposal to link Chennai and Vladivostok, according to Rosatom. The aim is to see if the corridor can be linked with a project to organise international container transit through the NSR. This would involve the construction of a transport and logistics hub in Vladivostok and the use of ship-to-ship transhipment technology to reduce the total delivery time of goods to target ports and increase the profitability of the route. Originally, the sea-corridor project was mooted for establishing mutual trade between India and countries of the Far East and could, in future, help boost the volume of cargo transportation between ports.
Seeking the participation of Indian shipping companies in projects for the development of transit container traffic along the NSR, Rosatom pointed out that this would enable India to acquire competence in the operation of the Arctic sea container line and support services. Referring to the scientific activity of Indian institutions in the study of the Arctic, Rosatom observed that India could use its knowledge about the Arctic “to generate innovative ideas aimed at the development of the national maritime sector.”
(The writer was in Murmansk on the invitation of Rosatom State Nuclear Energy Corporation)