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Source: Clarkson's Research

Map from Clarkson Research presentation shows that Russian oil exports must move via ice-affected ports.

Marine Industry: Getting ready for a new ice class age

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced last month that Russia hopes to export 50 million tons of oil annually to the U.S., according to a report from the RIA Novosti news agency. If Russian oil exports increase at projected rates, a large proportion will move via tanker from ice affected ports.

The Russian oil boom is one reason why last year year, an astonishing $4.5 billion was invested in ice class newbuildings--mostly high spec class 1-A tonnage.

Clarkson Research studies have identified 262 Ice Class 1A ships as operational today, equivalent to 4.2 million dwt, with 70--80% of them under 20,000 dwt.

In March, Clarkson Research's Stephen Gordon told a DNV forum that "there are 234 vessels with ice strengthening on order. Some 165 are ice-class 1A and three are ice-class 1A Super."

You can download a PDF of Gordon's presentation from Clarkson's Shipping Intelligence Network. Clarkson Research is probably hoping that this will pique your interest enough to purchase the full Ice Class Tanker Sector Report, published in January.

There are no signs of this boom slowing--and there are indications that Arctic-capable LNG tankers will soon be on order.

Ironically, Global Warming means that the present and projected generation of ice class vessels could be the precursors of an even bigger shipbuilding boom. Arctic ice is retreating at an alarmingly rapid rate. One of the few benefits of this is that year round commercial routing of ships via the Northwest Passage and the Northern Sea Route (or Northeast Passage) is a distinct future possibility. The Northern Sea Route dramatically reduces the traveling distance between Europe and the Far East or the west coast of North America. Via the Northern Sea Route, the navigational distance between Hamburg and Yokohama, for instance, is only 6,900 miles, compared with 11,430 miles via the Suez Canal.

Arctic routes

Taken from the report of the Arctic Marine Transport Workshop held September 28-30 2004, this map is a general portrayal of the major Arctic marine routes shown from the perspective of Bering Strait looking northward.

Increased use of the Arctic for marine transportation has been getting serious academic attention for some time.

Useful sources of further information include publications from the U.S. Arctic Commission--including the workshop last year from which the map above is taken. Another rich resource is Norway's Fridtjof Nansen Institute, whose website still maintains the homepage of INSROP (International Northern Sea Route Program), an international research program that ran from 1993-1999.

The European Union is also contributing Euros 3.02 million to a Euros 5.23 million, three year research and development program called ARCOP. The purpose of is to develop means of bringing Russian oil and gas to Europe making use of the Northern Sea Route.

NEW ENERGY KLONDIKE

Year round use of the Northern Sea Route may still be a while away. But further development of ice class shipping is already accelerating because of the boom in demand for Russian energy exports.

Some commentators are hailing the Barents Sea as "the new energy Klondike."

There are estimates predict that one third of Russia's oil exports, or 150 million tonnes per annum--equal to Norway's current production--will go through the Barents Sea by around 2015. And then there's LNG ...

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