The Northern Sea Route and Its Prospects: Part 2.

While preparing this second part [part 1 can be found here – ed] of the story about the Arctic, two bits of news came out:

1. Putin instructed the government, Rosatom, and Russian Railways to work out the issue of delivering fish from the Far East to the European part of Russia via the Northern Sea Route.

2. Trump demanded to develop a program for the construction of icebreakers. Under the program, at least three heavy-class ships are supposed to be built and several middle-class icebreakers laid down.

I will not gloat about the topic of “Trump demanded”, I will say only one thing: all of this indicates that the strategy for the development of the Northern Sea Route adopted by Russia is extremely important, timely, and far-sighted. Therefore we will continue.

About Arctic caravans

In principle, there are cases when tankers go through the Arctic without an icebreaker. But not in the winter-spring season. There are cases when an icebreaker has dragged a gas carrier along the Gulf of Ob, and an oil tanker from Cape Kamenny follows them along this channel after a while. No one is offended. The captain of a tanker chooses for his vessel the path through the ice that he considers to be the easiest in terms of ice conditions. And in the summer, when the concentration of ice is not so high, everyone mostly copes on their own.

When there is an icebreaker at the head of a caravan, other vessels can join it – our captains usually do not mind, in the Arctic we need to help each other. Documents for piloting in the ice at sea are not needed. Here it’s like in war – documents are all on the shore. At sea it’s only about the work itself and the piloting itself. On the shore, an agreement is concluded for icebreaking services. The rate is calculated according to the criteria of the navigation period, gross capacity, distance, and ice class. You pay after piloting, in fact. All people are decent, they do not go without payment.

Arctic yachting

It’s really exotic. But there are extreme sports everywhere and now there are more and more of them, navigation is expanding. For example, it is known that regattas are held with some regularity in the Yenisey Gulf. One-man yachts can pass through the Northern Sea Route, although it rarely happens. It’s really cool.

But there is an other side to the question. Yachts cannot be tracked by monitoring means. They often do not have satellite AIS, and there are no coastal stations there. As a result, it is easy to confuse a yacht with an ice floe at sea, especially at night or in fog. Well, one ice floe is pushed, then another, and the third one can turn out to be a yacht. There’s nothing you can do. It can happen. On the radar, too, you can’t always recognise a yacht.

Therefore, Rosatom is now working towards ensuring that everything that moves along the Northern Sea Route has an AIS. So that if it’s a yacht, it can be identified and not be afraid of being struck by a propeller. Another example: a barge for some reason got lost. Even if it’s empty. How to find it? Here comes the same gas carrier in the fog, boom, and it ran into this barge. It is dangerous? Yes. What if it drowned and created an underwater obstacle? This would be even more dangerous.

This problem (AIS) has a downside – costs. Not everyone can afford it. Therefore, proposals are being studied to understand what the cheapest and most undemanding equipment is, so as not to greatly burden people, but to improve the safety of navigation.

And so it comes to the absurd. In Salekhard, where the large Ob-Irtysh river shipping company is based, AIS equipment and an accumulator were put on a barge. The local kids got in at night and the accumulator disappeared. There are stories about navigation signs that the Chukchi simply destroy: they think that this is all something bad. They break. They destroy. In general, everything happens, Russia is big…

About the structure of Arctic ice

It is often asked: do sailors pierce sea ice to put a piece in a glass? Yes, but where to put it) It is blue only in the sea, and, for example, in the Gulf of Ob, it is brownish due to a large amount of sand suspension. Who would throw such ice in a good drink?!

Here is an example of ice from two places: above – this is the ice of the Gulf of Ob; below – the Kara Sea.

About quadcopters

Quadrocopters are used, but they have a number of restrictions: temperature conditions and unsatisfactory take-off and landing characteristics in terms of wind strength, as well as a short distance.

Now attempts are being made to use helicopter-type drones, but this topic is still being studied.

In unmanned reconnaissance, infrared cameras are used, but only as auxiliary equipment. On a polar night, it’s hard to determine the thickness of the ice and see something. A more preferred option is with radar. There is progress in this direction.

About documents needed for work in the Arctic

In order go to work “on ice” you need a marine education, but this is the case everywhere. You need all documents that are needed for regular voyages, and in addition to them, for working in polar waters, you need to receive certificates and undergo training at simulator centres for navigation in polar waters. But the main training is in practice. Ice navigation is not a simple affair. In addition, in order to work on nuclear ships and work with a reactor, for example, you need to have permission from Rostekhnadzor.

About accidents

An accident in the Arctic is an extremely undesirable situation and it is good that it happens very rarely. Theoretically, there is need to continue to drift with the ice as much as possible. The ship will not be squeeze much in 2 or 3 hours with ice. The pressure is predictable, and depends on the geography and characteristics of the ice. Icebreakers try not to go where there is strong pressure. If a drift is not very possible, then the work of the nearest icebreaker must be interrupted so that it can offer help.

In February of this year, there was news about a German icebreaker, where it was reported: “Now Polarstern, frozen in pack ice, is drifting in the North Pole area.”

In fact, the icebreaker was frozen in the ice. However, the icebreaker is not an ordinary vessel, the shape of the hull is such that it can withstand serious pressure. In this case, the icebreaker was frozen. I.e., a platform for it to freeze was prepared, and it didn’t just enter and stand. It is frozen in a relatively flat field of ice, with which it drifts. There is nothing unusual here, except that the icebreaker simply drifts along with the ice floe.

To be frozen in ice is a normal phenomenon. In Yakutia, ships are frozen in ice every year, and then, before navigation, ice is cut out. A kind of natural dock. But for an icebreaker, of course, it’s not a way of staying put. The icebreaker is either on the move or drifting.

To be continued…

Aleksandr Dubrovsky

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