History was written in global merchant shipping during August and September 2009 when two multipurpose heavy lift carriers under the flag of Beluga Shipping GmbH successfully mastered the premiere in the commercial transit of the legendary Northeast-Passage from Asia to Europe.
MV “Beluga Fraternity” and MV “Beluga Foresight” delivered various heavy lift modules from Ulsan, South Korea, straight to Novyy Port / Yamburg at the River Ob in Siberia, exited the so called Northern Sea Route by passing Nowaya Semlja and took on the hook up project by loading steel pipes in Archangelsk and delivering them to Nigeria.
Connecting continents is nothing new in the world of shipping – doing so by utilising the short cut through the Arctic Ocean, however, is a real breakthrough.
Sailing the route which is newly open for a short time frame in summer due to global warming and melting ice shaves off some 3,000 nautical miles from the about 11,000 miles long traditional journey through the Suez Canal and the Gulf of Aden. “By using the Northern Sea Route we could reduce the bunker consumption of the used low sulphur Intermediate Fuel Oil 380 by roughly 200 tons in total per vessel.
This resulted in financial savings of about 100,000 US-Dollars alone for bunker costs with Beluga F-class vessels plus 20,000 US-Dollars daily for each day travelling the Northeast-Passage shortens the usual voyage time”, says Niels Stolberg, President and CEO of Beluga Shipping GmbH, the Bremen (Germany)-based world market leader in project and heavy lift shipping that is behind this innovative project.
All in all, about 300,000 US-Dollars per vessel were saved by transiting the formerly ice packed route along the North Russian shore through the Bering Sea, the Bering Strait, the Laptev Sea, the Vilkizki Strait and the Kara Sea instead of taking the long way round. As positive side effect, environmentally harmful emissions were significantly reduced: “We can use the Northeast-Passage only because of the effects of global warming, yet by doing so we reduce the bunker consumption and cut down emissions. With regard to the global CO2-balance this is a beneficial achievement”, Niels Stolberg explains.
No other foreign merchant vessels had formerly sailed this sea route nor has any even been allowed to try by the Russian government. In earlier times explorers fought their way through the thick ice. Since the late 15th century first attempts were made to find a short all-water route from Europe mainly to China yet it was not before 1878/79 that Swedish explorer Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld accomplished the first full traverse. Later, since the early 19th century, the former USSR established a shipping lane through the Northern Sea Route to explore resources in the remote interior or to build up, supply and maintain strategic military posts. The Russian ice breaker fleet kept the passage navigable when required. This has been necessary for centuries and decades and sailing through the Northeast-Passage without ice breaker assistance has never been reasonable.
Then, in 2007 and 2008 reports suggested that regular shipping through this inhospitable area, long a seafarer’s dream, could become reality. Satellite pictures revealed that melting ice during summer opens the way. This was the time when in the Beluga headquarters in Bremen Niels Stolberg thought that transiting the Northeast-Passage could be one more innovative approach of making shipping more efficient by following the direct seaway between Europe and Asia as well as creating access to an economic area in Siberia that bears enormous trade potentials yet seemed locked for so long. Modern ice hardened vessels, experienced seafarers, in-house meteorologists, a committed department “Health, Safety, Security & Environment”, an own future-oriented department for “Research & Innovation”, engaged chartering experts: Beluga Shipping already had tilled the field, ready to cast off and make history happen. Detailed preparations started immediately, schemes were designed, contacts made – this diary shows, how the innovative project “Commercial Transit of the Northeast-Passage” developed from the first idea to the successful finish:
Spring 2008: The Northeast-Passage is declared open and navigable for commercial purposes – a time frame of six to eight weeks in summer comes into consideration
June 2008: Beluga Shipping works out a plan to send the MV “Beluga Foresight” through the Northeast-Passage in August 2008 with project cargo on board
August 2008: The ambitious intention has to be postponed, since the necessary approvals from Russia are not procurable in due course to use the short time frame – instead MV “Beluga Foresight” takes the traditional route from Rotterdam (Netherlands) through the Suez Canal to Yangpu (China)
September 2008: In the Beluga Headquarters in Bremen the effort is concentrated on making the innovative journey happen at the next earliest possibility
January 2009 and March 2009: Beluga experts travel to Moscow in order to enter personal talks with Russian administration authorities and learn more about the requirements for an efficiently target-aimed process of approval
April 2009: The written form of application for the official permit to transit the Northern Sea Route is handed in on behalf of Beluga Shipping GmbH
July 2009: The MV “Beluga Fraternity” and the MV “Beluga Foresight” call at Ulsan, South Korea, where they are loaded with in all 44 heavy lift components destined for the construction of a water power plant in Surgut, Siberia
23rd of July 2009: The MV “Beluga Fraternity” casts off, setting course on Russia
25th of July 2009: The MV “Beluga Fraternity” arrives at Vladivostok where the captain drops anchor outer roads
28th of July 2009: The MV “Beluga Foresight” departs from Ulsan with the same direction like her sister vessel
30th of July 2009: The MV “Beluga Foresight” moors at Vladivostok in the range of sight to the MV “Beluga Fraternity” – late in the evening, Russian port and custom authorities come on board of MV “Beluga Fraternity”: all certificates and documents are inspected, the safety equipment, the machinery and the bridge checked – the vessel is declared in ideal shape and qualified to travel the Northern Sea Route
1st of August 2009: The clearance of MV “Beluga Foresight” goes ahead with the same success
During August 2009: Maintenance work is the daily duty of the crews of both vessels
21st of August 2009: The Russian Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Defence, the Secret Service and finally the Russian Government all approve of the Beluga-application, all documents are signed and stamped: Beluga is being granted official permission to use the Northern Sea Route – the same day both Beluga vessels depart from Vladivostok – next port of destination is Novyy Port / Yamburg at the River Ob in Siberia – the Beluga meteorologists have access to up-to-date satellite pictures and analyse the ice situation very professionally on a daily basis; they provide the captains with daily routing suggestions avoiding ice contact as best as possible to minimize the risk
31st of August 2009: The Russian ice breaker “50 Let Pobedy” awaits the Beluga vessels at the meeting point on 70° 20′ North 170° 00′ East – the same afternoon the captains for the first time report about small ice bergs and ice floes with about one meter thickness in sight – The ice breaker hire was handled as a regular service component included in the “Charterers Agreement”, it has been arranged that the client covers the costs for ice breaker assistance
4th of September 2009: At the entrance to the Vilkizki Strait, the most northerly spot of the passage, ice breaker “Rossia” enlarges the convoy: the order now is 1. “50 Let Pobedy”, 2. MV “Beluga Fraternity”, 3. “Rossia”, 4. MV “Beluga Foresight” – in the afternoon the vessels encounter the biggest ice rests of the entire journey with a concentration of up to 50 percent – navigating with utmost precaution brings them safely through this area while then the concentration sinks again consistently
7th of September 2009: At 7.54am local time (UTC +6) the anchor of MV “Beluga Fraternity” is dropped at the port of destination Novyy Port / Yamburg – only a few hours later the discharging of the 200 to 300 tons heavy items begins – the power plant modules are discharged with own crane gear offshore onto barges to be delivered further up River Ob to Surgut – in the meantime, the MV “Beluga Foresight” arrives at Novyy Port / Yamburg and moors in position for discharging
10th of September 2009: “Discharging completed” they say on board MV “Beluga Fraternity”, the vessel sets sail again – due to bad weather with heavy storms and high swell the discharging process on board MV “Beluga Foresight” is delayed for matters of safety, one heavy lift of a 90 tons module remains to be carried out
12th of September 2009: On her journey towards west the MV “Beluga Fraternity” passes the archipelago Nowaja Semlja – in the eyes of the Russian Northern Sea Route Administration this marks the exit of the Northeast Passage
14th of September 2009: The weather now allows for lifting the final cargo module from board of the MV “Beluga Foresight” – thereafter the vessel puts out to sea
16th of September 2009: Now the MV “Beluga Foresight” as well passes Nowaja Semlja in position 70.16’7N – 057.33’4E on her way through the Russian waters into the Atlantic Ocean – the premiere of the Northeast-Passage is successfully completed
September 2009 and October 2009: The subsequent project is already under way: MV “Beluga Fraternity” and MV “Beluga Foresight” receive the outward clearance at Archangelsk and in the port of the so called city of arch angels on the banks of the Northern Dvina load 6,000 freight tonnes steel pipes each, which are delivered to the private port of Onne in Nigeria – at the Beluga Headquarters in Bremen the planning process begins for using the Northern Sea Route again in 2010, then perhaps with up to six vessels during the possible six to eight weeks in the Russian summer
“We are all very proud and delighted to have successfully transited the legendary Northeast-Passage and delivered the sensitive cargo safely through this extraordinarily demanding sea area with discharging in Siberia what itself meant filling a niche in a niche market”, Niels Stolberg says. “To transit the Northeast-Passage so well and professionally without incidents on the premiere is the result of our extremely accurate preparation as well as the outstanding team work between our attentive captains, our reliable meteorologists and our engaged crew. Before the final cargo was discharged, we had already succeeded in passing any inspections and clearances as well as having been granted the official permission, which also is a great achievement. The challenges of an intense preparation and planning for such a project could all be exemplarily mastered by an ambitious teamwork of which I am very proud indeed”, adds the President and CEO of Beluga Shipping GmbH.
The 2009 pioneer voyages of MV “Beluga Fraternity” and MV “Beluga Foresight” are only the beginning for further innovative projects. Today already, Beluga Shipping has booked in contracts for the shipment of project and heavy lift cargo with single weights of up to 1,000 tons that are to be discharged offshore onto barges in Siberia for their adjacent transport into the according destinations. The oil and gas producing industry as well as infrastructure extensions are well developing in Siberia and the open Northeast-Passage brings carriers closer and more directly to the market which has previously been impossible. In 2010, Beluga Shipping will most probably apply the new generation vessels of the Beluga P-class. With these super heavy lift powerhouses that provide for a maximum tonnage of 20,000 tons deadweight and combined crane capacities of 800 to 1,400 tons, using the Northeast-Passage might result in financial savings of about 600,000 US-Dollars per vessel and transit. This will be another new dimension for the utilisation of a seaway that has just opened up.
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