NSR box game: vision of the Arctic container line

By griffith - July 2, 2021
Arctic container ship design

Central Marine Research and Design Institute (CNIIMF) has conducted a comprehensive technical and economic analysis under the project on arranging a transarctic container line. The priority option recommended by CNIIMF is a 6,000 TEU container ship of Arc8 ice class with steerable propellers powered by LNG as the main fuel.

CNIIMF JSC has performed a simulation modelling and a comprehensive technical and economic analysis of a transarctic container line under the Northern Sea Transit Corridor project.

It is increasingly evident that transport corridors between Asia and Europe should be diversified. Geopolitical tension between China and the USA as well as the Suez Canal incident and its implications make it clear that new ways of transportation are needed. However, the alternative Arctic route, despite its shorter distance, had been underestimated until the recent times while its sustainability and economic efficiency was questioned by the expert community. To respond to those questions, State Corporation Rosatom ordered a scientific research aimed at estimation of arctic shipping efficiency, analysis of possible risks and conditions to ensure sustainability of the route.

The work was executed in the framework of the project on development of a container line between the Northwest Europe and the East Asia – Northern Sea Transit Corridor (NSTC). The project foresees establishment of transport and logistic hubs, construction of the Arctic container ships and dev of infrastructure to enhance high efficiency of the transport system and an up-to-date level of services. The development of international transit of containers is run by Rusatom Cargo, integrator of Rosatom’s logistic business.

The purpose of the study is to address the issues related primarily to uninterrupted supply of cargo amid the challenging ice conditions, growing traffic on the NSR and the related demand for icebreakers. In that respect the works included a comprehensive technical and economic analysis and a detailed simulation modelling of a container line as well as development of an organizational and management model of NSTC. CNIIMF acted as a general contractor with the simulation modelling created by Bureau Hyperborea LLC and ice conditions data provided by FSBI Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute. Law Office of St. Petersburg «Inmarin» provides consulting services in the part of legal regulation of container shipping in the Arctic.

The study considered different configurations of the transport system including both direct shipping between the target ports of Asia and Europe and alternatives that foresee transshipment in transport and logistic hubs in the west and in the east of Russia.

When considering the NSTC organizational and management aspects, the researchers defined the requirements on cargo safety during transportation, storage and moving in ports, developed recommendations on legal regulations of container shipping in the Arctic, considered alternatives of cargo/ship/crew insurance, determined types of ownership and operation transport and logistic hubs and commercial ships as well as suggested patterns of interaction with target container terminals and owners of feeder ships in Asia and Europe.

The task of the NSTC simulation modelling was to find the ways for raising sustainability and regularity of the transport system operation. The simulation modelling took into consideration numerous technical details, physical and logistic processes and parameters that let the computer model approach the maximum realistic conditions. The model simulates the fleet operation, dynamics of wind/wave/ice conditions, defines the parameters of ships movement and fuel consumption, takes into account navigation conditions on the routes, simulates the process of container transshipment in ports in certain weather and technological conditions as well as describes the operation of icebreakers and the docking of ships.

A distinguishing feature of this model is the direct accounting of the crucial aspect of the Arctic navigation – movement of vessels along the optimal routes – ice routing allowing to escape the heaviest ice features while moving along the easiest routes. For that purpose, the model includes an automated unit for optimised routing with the check for correct operation based on a correlation with the field data. Another specific component of the model is a planning module based on solving combinatorial optimization problem. It permanently re-plans the operation of icebreakers in view of the current ice situation and the boxships traffic schedule. Thus, the work is arranged to ensure icebreaker support of container carriers in the most challenging sectors without unnecessary transitions.

Ice conditions are described basing on the archive charts of 1997-2020 covering about 15 ice parameters essential for shipping with a time step of some 5-7 days.

Main window of NSTC simulation model

A range of Arctic container ships with a variety of size, capacity, ice class, icebreaking capability, type and capacity of power plans and propulsion units was developed for simulation experiments. A total of 30 variants have been considered for a “pilot” and “full-scale” phases of NSTC development. The range of variations was developed basing on a dedicated design patterns allowing to get detailed characteristics of container ships such as hull shape, weight, hull structure, propeller particulars, resistance in clear waters and in ice, ship trim and stability. The model was verified basing on container ships data for ice free waters.

Taking into consideration high anthropogenic impact sensitivity of the Arctic region and the company’s commitment to sustainable development goals, the work was focused on compliance with environmental standards of shipping. The existing and planned nature reserves and national parks were taken into account when developing the routes. All power plants considered are MARPOL compliant in terms of SOx and NOx emissions. Power plans running on liquefied natural gas were also under consideration.

CNIIMF specialists also developed a model for estimation of construction costs for container ships with increased weight load taking into account current prices for main ship equipment and the arctic steel.

The simulation experiments using the financial and economic model let define the key indicators of the Arctic fleet operation including estimation of one container transportation cost. Such factors as using dual-fuel power plants, opting for conventional shaft lines or pods, ice class of ships were in the spotlight. Special attention was paid to the analysis of logistics, location of transport and logistic hubs as well as other aspects.

The newly developed financial and economic model of the Arctic container line confirms its competitive TEU shipping cost. The study results confirmed reasonability of using liquefied natural gas as a fuel as well as using full-revolving steerable propellers for propulsion of ships as they ensure more efficient operation in challenging ice conditions of the eastern Arctic.

Interface of the design model for determination of Arctic container ship charachteristics

Basing on the estimation results and taking into consideration the need to ensure regular year-round navigation of the container line, the scope of icebreaking support and the growing traffic on the Northern Sea Route, CNIIMF recommends a 6,000 TEU container ship of Arc8 ice class with steerable propellers as a priority option. Liquefied natural gas is suggested as the main fuel which is to ensure high environmental specifications. The ship is to be able to move both bow and stern first. Experts say the ship is to have icebreaking capacity of about 2.7 m at astern running.

The research has demonstrated the viability, efficiency and sustainability of the NSTC system. The results have gone through several phases of discussion with the shipping and shipbuilding community. The extended meetings of CNIIMF Research and Technology Board recommended to approve and use the results of the research.