At the time, more than 300 vessels were waiting in line on both sides of the artificial waterway, waiting to deliver their cargo from Europe to Asia and vice versa. The blockade of maritime traffic, which lasted six days, generated a total cost of approximately US $ 1 billion (R $ 5.6 billion), according to Admiral Osama Rabie, head of the Suez Canal Authority.
Important maritime rupture
The Suez Canal is an important artificial waterway for global east-west transport, built in Egyptian territory, being the only way to pass from the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea and then to the Indian Ocean.
Currently, around 12% of world trade, approximately one million barrels of oil and around 8% of liquefied natural gas flow daily through the waterway.
In 2015, the government of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi completed a major expansion of the canal, opened in 1869, allowing it to accommodate the largest ships in the world.
Need for an alternative
The blockade of the Suez Canal highlighted the vulnerability of the route used for the transportation of goods, causing the global logistics market to turn its attention to alternative routes, one of which is the Northern Maritime Route.
The Northern Sea Route, which runs along the Russian northern coast, connecting the Atlantic to the Pacific, is one of the most inhospitable and inaccessible places on the planet located in the Far North of Russia and bathed by the Arctic Glacial Ocean, which bathes approximately 60% of the more than 37.6 thousand kilometers of the Russian coast. The region has one of the largest hydrocarbon reserves in the world.
© Photo / NASA
Northern Maritime Route (red line), via Suez Canal (green line)
The Northern Sea Route has the ports of Murmansk, located in the European part of Russia, and Petropavlovsk in the Far East, on the Kamchatka peninsula.
At the end of 2020, 33 million tons of oil, liquefied natural gas and nickel derivatives were transported along this route.
The main customers of this route would be China, in the first place, and also Japan and South Korea, because transporting goods to the ports of Southeast Asian countries would no longer be profitable due to the long distance to be traveled.
According to Russian diplomacy, the episode highlights the need to step up efforts to create a sea route in the Arctic, which would connect Europe to Asia.
© Sputnik / Aleksandr Piragis
Vessel in the commercial sea port of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky
Nikolai Korchunov, responsible for international cooperation in the Arctic at the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that the incident in the Suez Canal highlighted the need, above all, for further development of the Northern Maritime Route.
However, Aleksei Kalinin, director of the Emerging Markets Research Institute at the Moscow School of Management in Skolkovo, the route would not replace the Suez Canal, but would be an alternative to quickly redirect goods in cases like the one on 23 March.
“You have to understand that no other route can completely replace the Suez Canal,” he said.
Climatic condition and its favorable action
The sea route in the Russian Arctic is increasingly feasible, thanks to climate change.
Climate change, which results in the region melting during the summer, is making the project a new possibility for activities in the region increasingly viable.
According to the report by the Russian meteorological agency Rosgidromet, the area of ice in the region is five to seven times smaller, compared to the 1980s.
© Sputnik / Vladimir Pesnia
Murmansk Commercial Seaport
In addition, in 2020 the area of ice cover in September reached a record reduction, limited to 26 thousand square kilometers.
In 2020, Russia recorded record annual temperatures, resulting in the historical decline of ice in the summer period on the Northern Maritime Route.
The Arctic loses 43.8 thousand square kilometers of ice every year, which opens up the possibility of a new sea route that could revolutionize global transport and allow access to other natural resources.
In this way, climate change and the retreat of ice in the boreal summers make the project more realistic, as it increasingly expands the maritime routes.
The large-capacity Russian ship, Christophe de Margerie, for the first time in the history of navigation, sailed the Northern Maritime Route from the Yamal Peninsula in May and concluded its trip to China in June 2020 in just three weeks. Usually, the sailing period in the port of Sabetta, in the Far North of Russia, begins in the month of July.
© Sputnik / Aleksei Druzhinin
Navio-tanque Christophe de Margerie
The arrival of the ship was considered an important advance for Russia, which demonstrated great potential to transport cargo across the Arctic seas.
Currently, hundreds of vessels pass through this route each year. Before, the Northern Sea Route was considered unfeasible, taking a long time to travel, even with the help of icebreakers.
Making way for new opportunities
The impact on the Arctic ecosystem means the opening of “two new large areas”, which are the ease of access to natural resources and the opening of new maritime routes.
However, experts believe that it may be decades before there are regular navigability conditions in the region, since these routes need to have search and rescue capacity in the event of an accident, practical maritime piloting, the ability to limit possible spills, that is, a large infrastructure.
© Sputnik / Pavel Lvov
Russian nuclear icebreaker 50 Let Pobedy (50 Years of Victory), of the Arktika class, in the Land of Francisco José
Despite the various points to be considered, the idea of having the sea route in the Russian Arctic offers an attraction – the possibility of shortening the crossing time of Asia-Europe in sea transport by 14 days.
“The Northern Sea Route has great potential to expand the volume of cargo transport, which would significantly reduce the time for transporting goods from Asia to Europe. Liquefied natural gas and oil, among other goods,” said the Ministry of Energy from Russia.
According to the Russian Ministry of Energy, although the condition is not very favorable in the region, in 2020 traffic along the Northern Sea Route exceeded the planned numbers and amounted to almost 33 million tons of cargo.
According to the director-general of the Far East Development Foundation and the Transbaikal Region, Aleksei Chekunkov, to ensure the development of the Northern Sea Route, making it competitive, the country would already be developing a fleet of icebreakers, in connection with the lengthening of the sailing period.
Sputnik / Vitaly Ankov
Perekop vessel of the Russian Baltic Fleet in the port of Vladivostok
However, in order to overcome the great challenge of this development, it will be necessary to create structures that are legally binding and that inhibit the race for resources or navigable channels that can be opened, as already happened in the Arctic offshore fisheries agreement, which demonstrates how countries like the United States, Russia, China or European states are able to collaborate when it comes to something that is of international interest.
In addition, the eight countries with a seat on the Arctic Council (United States, Canada, Russia, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland and Finland) will need to assess the total impacts on such a sensitive ecosystem, monitoring the impact of resource exploitation.
Perspectives and future in the Arctic
Russian President Vladimir Putin has made exploration of the Arctic a strategic priority, advocating the creation of a sea route along the north coast to connect Europe to Asia and compete with the Suez Canal, which receives about 10% global maritime flow.
In 2011, the Russian government announced that it would invest 3.4 billion euros (R $ 22.4 billion) over the next ten years in the entire Russian transport system to renovate the ports of Murmansk, located in the European part of Russia, and in the Far East those on the Kamchatka Peninsula, in addition to building 10 emergency centers with meteorological and rescue services in the region.
After launching the route in 2011, Russia started building icebreaker ships and supply ports, rescue operations coordination centers and military bases on the north coast.
Sputnik / Vitaly Ankov
Admiral Makarov icebreaker in the Eastern Bosphorus, as it sets sail for the Northern Sea Route
The route shows a significant increase in the flow of ships in the summer months, however, there is a need for improvements in the management and logistics of the routes so that there is a safer and more efficient transport in the north, including access to synoptic observations of meteorological weather, sea ice and ocean conditions, an effective search and rescue system and aid to icebreakers, crews in constant training to operate in the polar region, in addition to the need for a vessel traffic system and an integrated governance and regulation system based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
According to Putin’s decree, by 2024 cargo traffic in the region is expected to increase to 80 million tonnes by 2024.
According to Sergei Valentei, professor of economics at Moscow Plekhanov University, one of the secrets for the future of the Northern Sea Route is the demand for liquefied gas extracted by Russia on the Yamal peninsula, which has the largest gas reserves in the world .
Ruslan Tankayev, an expert at the Chamber of Commerce and the Union of Hydrocarbon Producers in Russia, believes that by 2050 “the route will be practicable all year”, reducing the route by thousands of kilometers in relation to the passage through the Suez Canal, in addition to be safer against acts of piracy.
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