Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said during an international conference on the Barents sea that shipping along the Arctic northern sea route could more than double, while experts said it could grow more than thirtyfold over the next eight years and account for a quarter of cargo traffic between Europe and Asia by 2030.
With global warming thawing sea ice, the route, which runs along Russia’s northern coast and links Europe with ports in East Asia, is opening for longer and longer each year.
Russia is also easing regulations to accommodate more vessels aiming to spur use of the still fledgling route that can cut travel time between Europe and Asia by up to 40 percent.
"Russia clearly sees the opportunity and is trying to take advantage of it," said Mikhail Belkin, an adviser at Atomflot, the operator of Russia’s nuclear icebreaker fleet. Experts see the shipping lane, which is now more accessible thanks to global warming, as “complimenting” the Suez canal.
"The northern sea route is not a rival to the Suez Canal, but it’s a good seasonal complement … and has the potential to grow very fast."
About 1.25 million tons of cargo traversed the route last year, a tiny figure compared to the Suez Canal’s 740 million tons.
But Belkin predicted a rise to 1.5 million tons this year and 40 million tons by 2021. "Crossings [between Europe and Asia] will account for 15 million tons, LNG from the Yamal Peninsula for another 15 million and oil cargo out of that area for another 10 million," said Belkin, whose icebreakers need to accompany most vessels along the route.