A Russian tanker carrying crude oil is making its way through Arctic waters to China as part of Moscow’s efforts to increase the use of the Northern Sea Route, in response to Western sanctions. The Aframax-class tanker, named Primorsky Prospect, is transporting approximately 730,000 barrels of Urals crude and began its journey from Russia’s Baltic port of Ust-Luga on July 11-12, according to ship tracking data. Owned by Russian shipping company Sovcomflot and built in 2010, the vessel is expected to arrive at its destination in Rizhao, China on August 12.
The European Union’s embargo on seaborne exports of crude, coupled with price caps on oil and petroleum products from Russia, has had a significant impact on oil supply worldwide. In response, Moscow has redirected most of its oil shipments that used to go to the EU towards Asian markets, particularly China and India. While this move has been successful in reaching new destinations, it has also increased delivery times and freight costs due to the longer distances involved.
The Northern Sea Route, which runs along Russia’s northern coastline through the Arctic Ocean, offers a potential solution to these challenges. By using this route, shipping times to China could be shortened by up to two weeks, or approximately 30%, compared to the traditional southern route through the Mediterranean and the Suez Canal. This significant reduction in transportation time could provide a competitive advantage for Russia’s oil exports.
Russia has ambitious plans for the Northern Sea Route and sees it as a major shipping lane between East Asia and Europe. As a result, the country is investing heavily in the infrastructure necessary to support increased shipping activity in the region. Russian nuclear energy firm Rosatom, which operates the route and has a fleet of nuclear icebreakers, is working alongside oil producers to explore the possibility of redirecting crude shipments from Baltic ports through the Arctic.
However, the use of the Northern Sea Route is currently limited to the summer months due to thick ice during winter. This constraint has not deterred Russian natural gas producer Novatek, the country’s second-largest producer, from planning year-round navigation via the route for its liquefied natural gas projects on the Arctic coast starting in 2024. This move demonstrates Russia’s commitment to the development and utilization of the Northern Sea Route as a key transportation corridor.
In conclusion, the Russian tanker’s journey to China through the Arctic waters highlights Moscow’s efforts to expand the use of the Northern Sea Route in response to Western sanctions. The shorter transportation times offered by this route could provide a competitive advantage for Russia’s oil exports, while the country’s investments in infrastructure demonstrate its commitment to establishing the Northern Sea Route as a major shipping lane. With plans for year-round navigation on the horizon, Russia is positioning itself to capitalize on the economic opportunities presented by the Arctic region.