46 vessels through Northern Sea Route

Never before have so many vessels used the northern Sea Route for cargo transport between Europe and Asia. (Photo: Rosatomflot)

The 2012 navigation season on the Northern Sea Route is coming to an end. Never before have so many vessels taken the Arctic shortcut between Europe and Asia, and never before has so much cargo been transported along the route.


Although the season is not yet completely over – there are still two Finnish icebreakers in westbound transit from Alaska to Denmark – some remarks on the 2012 season can be made.

There has been a tenfold increase in the number of vessels using NSR during the last two years. This season 46 vessels have sailed the route, compared to 34 in 2011 and only four in 2010.

The total cargo transported on the NSR this year is 1 261 545 tons – a 53 percent increase from 2011, when 820 789 tons was shipped on the route. 

25 of the vessels sailed NSR eastbound, starting from Murmansk, Arkhangelsk or Baydaratskaya Bay. 21 sailed in a westbound direction, a report from Rosatomflot reads. The report is given to BarentsObserver by the Centre for High North Logistics, an international knowledge hub on Arctic transport and logistics for businesses.

Petroleum products constitute the largest cargo group. A total of 894 079 tons of diesel fuel, gas condensate, jet fuel, LNG and other petrol products has been transported on 26 vessels in 2012. 18 of the tankers sailed from west to east, eight in the opposite direction. There have been no super tankers on the NSR this season – the largest tanker was the Norwegian “Marika”, which transported 66 552 tons of jet fuel from Korea to Finland in August. 

The second largest cargo group was iron ore and coal, which was transported along the route six times. 

The two Finnish icebreakers “Nordica” and “Fennica” will probably be the last vessels to use NSR this season. The vessles are underway from Alaska to Denmark. 

First LNG tanker
As BarentsObserver reported, the Northern Sea Route was used for transportation of LNG for the first time in history this autumn. The tanker “Ob River” transported 66 342 tons (134 738 m³) from Statoil’s gas plant in Hammerfest to Tobata in Japan. The vessel spent nine days on NSR from it passed the Kara Gate on November 9 to in entered Cape Dezhnev on November 18. 

Being the world’s northernmost LNG plant, its remote location could have been a disadvantage when searching for new customers. With rapid melting sea ice, Hammerfest LNG is located at the entrance gate for the new shipping route to the energy hungry markets in Asia. The distance to Japan is nearly half via the north compared with sailing the more traditional Suez Canal route. The Northern Sea Route is estimated to save up to 20 days for the distance Hammerfest to Japan.