Arctic shippers await release from ice captivity

Icebreakers are on the way to rescue 15 ships that have been slowed or stopped by sea ice along Russia's Northern Sea Route.

By Atle Staalesen, The Independent Barents Observer - November 16, 2021
The Finnish bulk carrier Kumpola is escorted through the East Siberian Sea. (ESL Shipping via The Independent Barents Observer)

Fifteen ships that have been slowed or stopped by ice in Russian Arctic waters for the last two weeks see release coming, as a second icebreaker makes its way into the East Siberian Sea.

Diesel-powered icebreaker Novorossisk early this week made its way into the Chukchi Sea, on course for the ships that are battling to make it out of the sea-ice in the East Siberian Sea.

The vessels, among them an oil tanker and several fully loaded bulk carriers,  have been captured in thick sea ice in the far eastern Arctic waters since early November as an early freeze took captains and shipping companies by surprise.

Over the last weeks, only one icebreaker, the nuclear-powered Vaigach, has been available for escorts through the increasingly icy waters. That has been insufficient to aid the many vessels that have been on their way across the Northern Sea Route.

Over the past years, ice conditions in late October and early November have allowed extensive shipping along the vast Russian Arctic coast. This year, however, large parts of the remote Arctic waters were already in late October covered by sea ice. There is now an ice layer more than 30 centimeters thick cross most of the Laptev Sea and East Siberian Sea. And in the strait separating the mainland from Wrangel Island is an area with more than a meter thick multi-year old ice.

Icebreaker Vaigach has over the past days escorted four westbound vessels to the New Siberian Islands and subsequently assisted an eastbound group of vessels towards Wrangel Island. As the Novorossisk makes it into the area, the Vaigach is expected to return westwards to escort the first group of ships from the New Siberian Islands and towards ice-free waters in the Kara Sea.

Among the ships on the route is the Finnish bulk carrier Kumpola that a is on its way back to Europe from Korea. In the area are also two carriers with iron ore from the Baffinland Iron Mines in northern Canada, as well as two carriers with iron from from Murmansk.

Among the ships is also oil tanker Vladimir Rusanov, as well as general cargo ship UHL Fusion.

Six more vessels are also locked in ice in the waters near Pevek on the north Chukotka coast.

According to authorities in the Chukotka region, the nuclear powered icebreaker Yamal was also to be sent to assist the vessels. However, as of November 16, the icebreaker was stilled moored in Murmansk. The same was the case with its sister ship 50 Let Pobedy.