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Northern Sea Route without Murmansk

Russia presents new traffic rules for the Northern Sea Route. But the Barents Sea is not included.

The new Law on the Northern Sea Route, adopted by Russian legislators this week, does not include Murmansk and the Barents Sea.

Location

The law, which lays down regulations on shipping along the increasingly popular Arctic route, states that the route in the west officially stretches from the eastern coast of the Novaya Zemlya, the Kara Gate and the straits between the mainland and the island of Vaigach. In the east, the route includes the areas from the Russian-U.S. sea border and the latitude of the Cape Dezhnev, the easternmost point on Russian territory, RIA Novosti reports.

The regulations, consequently, do not include the Barents Sea and the Pechora Sea, both of them waters, which are expected a hike in shipping and industrial activities over the next years. Both Murmansk and Arkhangelsk, Russia’s two main Arctic cities, are located outside the new definition of the Northern Sea Route territory.

The new law, which was adopted by the State Duma in a third reading Tuesday, will come into force in 2013.

Among the rules for vessels operating in the area are new insurance requirements, which are to enhance ship owners’ responsibility for possible environmental damage and pollution. The law also outlines the level of shipping fees, although not very concretely, saying that the rates on icebreaker assistance will be provided based on the “extent of the services offered”.

Included in the law is also the establishment of a new Northern Sea Route administration, which is to manage icebreaker and sailing master services, as well as provide radio communication and hydrographic information, organize search and rescue operations and prepare preparedness meaures on emergency situations. According to Bellona.ru, the Russian Finance Ministry is allocating 27 million RUB (€660.000) for the new administration.

The new law is a long-awaited and much-needed piece of legislation. However, critics say that it insufficiently addresses the environmental challenges in the vulnerable area. According to Igor Kudrik from the Bellona Foundation, a major oil spill in the remote area will have huge environmental consequences for nature, and financial consequences for the shipping company. “If the shipping operators are to bear all costs related to spills, the route might ultimately not be so popular, after all”, he says.