Arctic change on Barents agenda

Political leaders in the Barents Region are facing a strong upswing of shipping and industrial activities in their northern waters.

The four prime ministers meeting today in Kirkenes, Norway, are increasingly confronted by the consequences of climate change and enhanced industrial activities in Arctic waters. Check out and embed our visualization on shipping along the Northern Sea Route here.


Hardly anything illustrates the situation in today’s Arctic better than the dynamics of trans shipments along the Northern Sea Route. Melting ice opens up new waters for longer periods than ever before and at unprecedented speed.

As our interactive visualization below shows, a total of 46 vessels in 2012 sailed transit along the route. Five years ago, the number was zero. In 2009, two ships, the “Beluga Fraternity” and “Beluga Foresight”, made the trans-continental journey. Then, in 2011, the shipments picked pace with as many as 41 vessels.

The interactive visualization, which has been developed by the Jefferson Institute in cooperation with BarentsObserver, shows that the ships taking the route the last two years had as many as 12 different flags with Russia being the by far most dominant country.

The visualization is embeddable and can used freely in your blog or website.

(The story continues under the visualization)

Oil products increasingly make up a lion’s share of the shipments. In 2012, a total of 26 vessels carried oil products, including LNG, on the route. In the years to come, as new Arctic fields open, oil shipments along the NSR are likely to continue to increase strongly. As previously reported, Novatek will export LNG on the route as soon as the major Yamal LNG project comes into production and Gazprom Neft will ship out oil from its Novoportovskoye project in Yamal presumably already in 2015.

Head of the Arctic Logistics Information Office (ARCLIO), Sergey Balmasov,
says to BarentsObserver that he expects NSR shipping volumes to increase in 2013 and that oil will constitute a key part of the shipments. However, he does not fear that the quick opening of the Arctic waters and expanded shipping ultimately will lead to a lowering of safety standards. “Safety goes first”, he underlines. Balmasov is part of a team of experts working under the Center for High North Logistics in Kirkenes, Norway.

For the government leaders assembling today on the Barents Sea coast, the prospects of enhanced shipping in northern waters and a subsequent upswing for Arctic ports is thrilling. But the development also raises a number of questions, not only concerning environmental protection and safety standards, but also harmonization of logistics regimes.

Until only few years ago, the Barents cooperation structure included also a Working Group on the Northern Sea Route. Paradoxically, this group was closed after 2001 supposedly following “low commercial interest”. Today, the situation has changed radically, and the Barents leaders could well consider a reopening of the group.

The NSR includes the waters between the Novaya Zemlya and the Bering Straits. The route is part of the bigger Northeast Passage, which also encompasses the White Sea and Barents Sea. Shipping companies can save up to 20 days on transcontinental shipments along the route compared with the alternative pathway through the Suez Canal.