Nansen memorial sets sail towards Siberia

Onboard the vessel at port on the Dvina River. From the left: Kjell Lund (Norwegian, Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry), Gunnar Sætra (Institute of Marine Research), Øyvind Nordsletten (Norwegian Counsul General in Murmansk), Rune Rafaelsen (Norwegian Barents Secretariat), Felix Tschudi (Tschudi Shipping Company) and Arild Moe (Fridtjof Nansen Institute).

ARKHANGELSK: A group of Norwegian, Russian researchers, business people and officials sail out from the White Sea Tuesday towards the Northern Sea Route to mark the anniversary of the August 1913 expedition of Fridtjof Nansen to Siberia.


BarentsObserver is onboard and will post blogs from the two weeks long expedition.

First part of the voyage sails out the White Sea towards the Barents- and Pechora Seas. Then through the Kara Sea east of Novaya Zemlya towards Dikson; the northernmost settlement on the Russian mainland. Thereafter up the River Yenisei to the port of Dudinka on the Taimyr Peninsula.

Fridtjof Nansen sailed towards Siberia together with the Norwegian business man Jonas Lied in an attempt to open a northern trade route from Central Siberia to Europe. The year before, in 1912, Jonas Lied had to cancel a voyage with products from Siberia because huge amount of sea ice along Russia’s north coast made it impossible to sail. 

Nansen was an expert on navigating in ice, and the waters north of Siberia was familiar to him from his famous attempt to reach the North Pole with the vessel “Fram” in 1893-96. 

Jonas Lied and Fridtjof Nansen succeeded to sail through the ice in the Kara Sea with the vessel “Correct” in August 1913. The vessel carried products that were reloaded to river vessels on Yenisei and brought back products from Jonas Lied’s businesses to Europe

Nansen, however, did not join the return voyage. He continued deeper into Siberia with a river steamer towards Krasnoyarsk and traveled the trans-Siberian railway to Vladivostok and returned to St. Petersburg months later. The life and culture of the Russian peoples aroused in Nansen, an interest and sympathy he would carry through his later humanitarian work for refugees in post revolution Russia in the 1920ies. 

Today, 100 years later, the staff onboard the memorial expedition intends to continue where Nansen started; promote cooperation between Norway and Russian in the High North and focus on trade and transport options now as the Arctic sea ice is smelting away.

“Nansen was a pioneer in building people-to-people cooperation with Russia. His ideas are actually what the Barents cooperation is all about today,” says Rune Rafaelsen, head of the Norwegian Barents Secretariat and one of the participants on the voyage.

It is the Russian research vessel “Professor Molchanov” that sails northbound with the participants. The vessel is ice-classed and has for three decades sailed the waters in the Arctic and Antarctica.

“Norwegian, Russian history, cooperation, borders and future meet here in the north. The Northern Sea Route makes the Barents Region a destination and transfer hub. Not only for us living here and in Siberia, but for new global trade routes between Asia and Europe,” says Rune Rafaelsen. 

The Norwegian Barents Secretariat supports the memorial expedition that is organized by the Northern Arctic Federal University in Arkhangelsk in cooperation with the UiT The Arctic University of Norway and the Norwegian Polar Institute.  Several ministerial officials from Oslo and Moscow and a small group of Norwegian business people are also taking part. 

BarentsObserver will blog from the expedition. Our first three days after sailing out the Northern Dvina river delta from Arkhangelsk will be in the White Sea. Thereafter, we sail around Cape Kanin and plan to make a port call to Bugrino village on the Kolgouev Island on Friday.