Record-beating Arctic convoy almost stuck in ice

By Atle Staalesen, The Independent Barents Observer - January 10, 2017

Icebreakers have escorted cargo vessels from Russia’s western Arctic to the eastern Arctic port of Pevek, the first time that’s happened at this time of year, according to Rosmorport, the federal port company.

The vessels Iogann Makhmastal and Sinegorsk arrived in Pevek Jan. 7.

The shipping operation was not an easy one. Accompanied by icebreaker Kapitan Dranitsyn, the two vessels set out from Arkhangelsk on Dec. 14, and were originally due to arrive in Pevek on Dec. 30. However, ice conditions were difficult and a second icebreaker, the Vladivostok-based Admiral Makarov, had come to the convoy’s assistance.

The 36,000-horsepower Admiral Makarov reached the convoy on Dec. 28, in the Sannikov Strait by the New Siberian Islands, the regional government of the Chukotka region said.

The Iogann Makhmastal and Sinegorsk carried about 10,000 tons of construction materials for the new port infrastructure in Pevek. The east Arctic town is set to be the site of Russia’s first floating nuclear power plant, the Akademik Lomonosov in 2019.

[For the first time, a cargo ship carries heavy construction modules across the Northern Sea Route in winter]

The arrival of the vessels is a major event for Pevek, regional Governor Roman Kopin says.

“It is a big event, because it allows us to continue construction works in this very important project, […] and because it shows that Chukotka is ready to serve this Arctic highway all year round,” he underlines in a press release.

“Perhaps, in the future, we can stop being dependent of the navigation [ice-free] period.”

According to the governor, the ground works with the protection dam around the power plant is 79 percent finished, while the coastal fortification works are 56 percent completed.

Several unique shipping operations are taking place this month. On January 4th, a ship owned by ZPMC Red Box Energy Services, a Netherlands-based marine-transport services provider, made it to Sabetta, the new Russian Arctic port in the Yamal Peninsula. The ship became the first cargo vessel to sail heavy construction modules along the Northern Sea Route during the winter months, the Arctic Journal reports.

The ship departed from Qingdao, China, in November, passing first through the Bering Strait, and then westbound along the NSR, where it was escorted for part of the way by Russian icebreakers.