Russia loosens ice-class requirements for Arctic shipping

With the weakening Arctic sea ice, Russia is softening ice-class requirements to grant ships access to the Northern Sea Route. (Atle Staalesen/The Independent Barents Observer)
With thinner Arctic ice comes softer regulations for vessels operating on the Northern Sea Route.

The Russian Transport Ministry aims for a revision of shipping regulations in Arctic waters. In a new normative act, the ministry calls for the introduction of new zones with lower ice-class requirements.

Currently, the Arctic sea route is divided into seven parts with different ice-class requirements. The new regulations will diversify those areas.

“It is necessary to specify criteria for the ships’ access to the waters of the Northern Sea Route, and add several areas to the currently existing seven areas,” the ministry says.

“This will enable us to create regions with homogenous ice conditions and provide ships access to parts of the Northern Sea Route with light ice conditions.”

The new regulations are described by RIA Novosti and also referred to by the Ministry itself (in Russian). The regime is due to come into effect in May 2019.

Shipping boom on Northern Sea Route

The softer rules come as shipping along the Russian Arctic coast is booming. In 2017, about 10 million tons of cargo were shipped to and from Russian Arctic ports and that volume is due to increase to 80 million by 2024. That is significantly straining the capacity of the country’s icebreaker fleet.

In the first eight months of 2018, shipping on the route increased by 81 percent. By 24th August, a total of 9.95 million tons of goods had been shipped on the route, compared with 5.5 million tons during the same period in 2017.

The Northern Sea Route includes the areas between Novaya Zemlya in the west to the Bering Strait in the east.

Over the last few years, ice conditions in the area have undergone dramatic change as water and air temperatures have increased. According to a new climate report from Roshydromet, Russia’s state agency on meteorology and environmental monitoring, average temperatures in parts of the region have increased with up to 5 C degrees over the last 30 years.

The biggest temperature deviations in the entire country in 2017 were found in the Kara Sea and the Chukchi Sea (far-east), reaching their highest numbers in March. The temperatures that month were as much as 13 degrees higher than average, the report reads.

According to Roshydromet, the ice coverage of the Northern Sea Route during the 1998-2005 period shrank to about 200,000 square kilometres, which is a 7-fold decrease compared to previous years. However, since 2005, the ice coverage on the shipping route has remained more or less the same, the agency says.

Atle Staalesen, The Independent Barents Observer

For more news from the Barents region visit The Independent Barents Observer.

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