15 October 2013

Container and Bulk Freight Vessels Reap Rewards of Shipping via the North East Passage  

Voyage of Stena Tanker Illustrates Potential Savings

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ARCTIC – RUSSIA – KOREA – In September we wrote of the Stena Polaris and her transit through the North East Passage, a place which is bound to see ever increasing traffic as the ice seemingly recedes for longer periods year on year. As pointed out then, the shorter route across the top of the world means reduced transit times for container freight and bulk vessels alike, crucial in difficult times. Shipping to South Korea via the North East Passage, compared with sailing via the Suez Canal, India and the Strait of Malacca, cuts 10-13 days off the voyage. A medium-sized tanker such as the Stena Polaris saves around 400 tonnes of fuel which represents savings of $300,000 in addition to environmental benefits.

The economies of passenger carrying vessels are an irrelevance as a ticket pays for length of voyage whereas a shorter voyage in any cargo carrier means more trips per annum for an owner or charterer and an equivalent jump in profits. There is a blog detailing the current voyage of the Stena Polaris and yesterday the vessel was nearing the end of her trip en route to Korea where she is due to dock in Yosu in about a week after sailing from the Gulf of Finland on September 17. Carl-Johan Hagman, CEO of Stena Shipping, Drilling and Ferries, commented:

“The voyage with the Stena Polaris is the first project where we are transferring technology and operational know-how from Stena to Hyundai Glovis. At the same time, it is the beginning of important collaboration. Stena’s objective is to expand in Asia together with good partners.”

The original voyage on the route was made by Adolf Erik Nordenskiölda, a Finn (although then the country was a Russian satellite), who led the Swedish expedition in the former whaling ship Vega. It took a year to transit the Passage, compared to the current few weeks, but of course Vega lacked the advantage of a flotilla of Russian nuclear powered icebreakers to clear a path.

Stena Polaris has been led through the ice floes by just one such vessel, the Taymyr, with her 110 strong crew, whilst the tanker has also had ice specialists amongst her own personnel, 25% of her officers are Russian, many the product of Makarov State University in St. Petersburg which devotes much time to teaching the art of navigating safely in ice. The standards required by the Russians for ships intending to transit these waters are technically very strict and the Danish ship is certified ice class 1A by Det Norske Veritas (DNV) and capable of punching through ice 80 centimetres thick of her own accord.

Now, the increase in numbers transiting these hitherto almost impassable waters, is seemingly leading the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to abandon its practice of offering guidelines for such voyages and introduce instead a ‘Polar Code’ that will lay down mandatory basic prerequisites and requirements for transportation through the Arctic, causing Erik Hånell, President and CEO of Stena Bulk AB, to comment:

“We are, of course, in favour of more explicit requirements in order to ensure safer shipping in the region. Stena has always been at the cutting edge of developments in safety as we are in this case since we are already well equipped and are operating at a level over and above the guidelines currently in force. Nevertheless, we are continuing to develop our operations with further improvements based on our own experience and collaboration with other players.”

Photo: The Stena Polaris entering the Bering Sea on October 14 meaning a sea change of dramatic proportions from the calmer icy Arctic waters.

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