Recently, Russian President Vladimir Putin met with the country’s shipbuilding executives to go through the plans which aim at prioritizing short sea shipping with the hope of bypassing the Suez Canal.
Alexei Rakhmanov, who is the Chief Executive of United Shipbuilding, Russia’s largest shipbuilding company, remarked that the team is focusing on the South-North corridor, primarily moving cargo via the Caspian Sea. This year, they are starting to design a containership that will ply the Caspian Sea with Helsinki as its final destination. In this way, they will be opening up routes that do not depend on foreigners.
According to the Kremlin, by building smaller vessels capable of short sea shipping, it’s possible to load cargo in northern Iran or western China and take it to Helsinki via the Russian Port of Olya on the Caspian Sea. They believe this route will take only seven or eight days to reach Helsinki from Olya at an average speed of 10 knots.
Rakhmanov further added: “We are enthusiastically working on many new products. In the case of civilian shipbuilding, I am referring to the opening of basically new segments, including small boats, which few businesses have dealt with systematically, and solutions for Russian cities.”
“The issue to be concerned about is the cost of this shipment. We are working on it jointly with shipping companies.” Putin was informed the route north will involve navigating the Volga River, then the Volga-Baltic Waterway, and the Moscow Canal to St Petersburg. Although the vessels could go as far as the White Sea, the scale would be a bit smaller there, with smaller cargos.
In the United States, the Maritime Administration during the time period of Trump prioritized short sea shipping as a key to eradicate the problems regarding the congested highways and failing infrastructure in today’s era of mega-ships. However, President Biden has not included much in the way of short sea shipping or port subsidies that could minimize America’s infrastructures and reduce carbon emissions to a considerable degree. On top of it, Biden has also failed to nominate the chief of the US Maritime Administration, the federal agency tasked with solving the problem. In Europe, the use of short sea shipping vessels is already common but 50% of the shortsea fleet is more than 20 years old, with Toepfer Transport suggesting 24% of the fleet will reach the end of their economic life in the next 5 to 10 years.
The fact to ponder upon is that this is not Russia’s first plan to bypass the Suez Canal. In March President Vladimir Putin revealed a plan to capitalize on the polar ice melt from global warming by investing in Arctic shipping and development. This plan to reroute cargo via the artic will also require shipbuilding efforts and. Russia declared plans to build new icebreakers that are powered by Liquified Natural Gas (LNG), this week. Russia already has a good number of heavy icebreakers (including heavy nuclear ships), while the United States doesn’t have a single heavy icebreaker that doesn’t catch fire and break down routinely.