New advisory for navigating the Northern Sea Route

ABS (American Bureau of Shipping) has released an advisory on navigation on the Northern Sea Route to support shipowners and operators intending to transit shipping routes through the Arctic seas.


ABS, a leading provider of global maritime classification services, has developed the “Navigating the Northern Sea Route” advisory with assistance from Russia’s Central Marine Research and Design Institute. It should provide owners with the information they need to apply for permits and to identify the possible technical and operational risks that could arise when trading in some of the world’s most challenging commercial shipping environments.

“The Northern Sear Route was virtually unnavigable by all but powerful icebreakers just a few short years ago,” says Todd Grove, Chief Technology Officer for ABS in a press release. “The NSR’s growing popularity has positive implications for transit times between Asia and Northern Europe, but the often unpredictable and unfamiliar shipping environment through the north also poses operational and technical challenges. This Advisory was developed to provide the industry with some of the information it needs to navigate those challenges safely and efficiently, while also helping to minimize the impact on the environment.” 

Trading through the NSR has the potential to reduce the typical transit times between Japan and Rotterdam by as much as 3,400 miles – or ten days – compared to the traditional route via the Suez Canal. This reduction brings with it commensurate gains in overall vessel utilization and reductions in bunker costs. The NSR also will provide access to the growing energy and industrial activity in northern Russia, projects that already have led to greater tanker traffic in the area and provided the impetus for several recent orders of ice-class LNG carriers for future export trades.

In 2013, a record number of 71 vessels sailed the whole route between the Bering Strait and the Barents Sea. This is a 54 percent increase compared to 2012. In 2010, only four vessels sailed the whole route.

Russia has high hopes that the amount of cargo transported through the NSR will increase considerably within the next decade. “A figure around 10 million tons is absolutely normal, it may even be more”, said Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev during the Barents Summit in Kirkenes in June 2013.