The test voyage to the Russian Arctic of the Finnish products tanker Uikku commenced on Saturday 25 April 1998 in Murmansk. The 16,000 dwt tanker will sail the North-East Passage to the Ob river estuary, a distance of some 1,000 miles or 1,800 kilometres. The convoy is headed by a Russian ice breaker and a third vessel, an exploratory ice breaker, provides the facilities for 70 researchers from different countries. Ice conditions in the North-East Passage have not been this severe for 30 years. Uikku will carry a cargo of gas condensate from Ob to Europe, where the cargo is expected to arrive at the end of May. Owned by Finland's Neste Shipping and Kvaerner Masa-Yards' joint venture company Nemarc, Uikku already navigated the entire North-East Passage in spring 1997, the first western vessel to do so since the expedition by Nordensklöld in 1878.
The Uikku's voyage will put to the test the latest Arctic shipping technology, ranging from vessel design and construction to transport logistics and information technology, along with the latest results of EU research programmes. The primary objective is to demonstrate a viable year-round short sea shipping link to the Arctic region, an additional objective is to identify areas where further research and development efforts are required.
The project has strong Finnish involvement and benefits from Neste Shipping's experience with ice shipping in the Arctic and Greenland.
Great attention will be paid to Uikku's performance in carrying gas condensate cargo under very severe ice conditions over a long distance. Of particular interest will be the tanker's response to ice impacts e.g. over 60 sensors are deployed in the ship's hull measuring continuously iceloads and other extreme environmental impacts, and the performance of specific navigation and other high-tech information systems.
The 70 researchers will undertake first-hand observations and evaluations of one of the world's most accomplished ice vessels in a real-life, commercial scenario.
Arcdev's total costs are 6.7 million ECU. Western and Russian partners account for 5.2 million ECU and 1.5 million ECU, respectively. The European Commission is contributing 960,000 ECU to the costs of western co-venturers, and 50% (750,000 ECU) to the Russian partners' costs.
The core of the ARCDEV project was a demonstration voyage in the Russian Arctic along the Northern Sea Route. Four vessels, a tanker and three assisting icebreakers, took part in or assisted this voyage. Commercial, technical, scientific, legal, environmental and political aspects were considered, and numerous measurements and data logging were carried out during the voyage.
Main areas of research work covered:
- legal and administrative aspects of navigating in the Russian Arctic, with a specific focus on insurance issues when nuclear icebreakers are involved;
- economic and commercial attractiveness of Arctic transportation, for different hydrocarbon cargoes (e.g. gas condensate, crude oil);
- ice conditions registration, analysis and forecasting, identifying the strengths and weaknesses of both traditional and innovative methods (satellite data, visual ice observations, electro-magnetic measurements, laser profilemeter flights, thermal drill measurements, sonar scanning);
- tankers' and icebreakers' performance in various Arctic environmental conditions, quantifying average speed, power usage and energy per nautical mile for ships in the convoy, and analysing tankers' ice classes for reliable, safe and efficient navigation;
- cargo handling operations, analysing different tanker loading systems and terminal types (the conventional fixed jetty, the single point mooring, and the gravity type loading system);
- remote service and maintenance systems, testing the latest communication and information technology for remotely helping the maintenance personnel onboard or giving medical aid;
- operational safety in terms of environment, human lives and preservation of natural resources; due to the very fragile ecosystems of the Russian Arctic, environmental impacts have to be carefully assessed.
The ARCDEV project proved that marine transportation of hydrocarbons from the Russian Arctic to Western Europe is technically possible and safe even in very hard ice conditions. Transportation costs are, however, extremely high for several reasons (e.g. high costs for icebreaker assistance, slow customs and immigration procedures, route selection resulting in the doubling of sailing distance, low loading rates of the temporary loading facilities).
To reduce costs and consequently increase cargo flows on the Northern Sea Route, long-term investments in tankers, the assisting icebreakers and loading terminals are required. To attract such investments, changes are needed in the legal framework and business environment. These changes can be achieved only through long-term co-operation and open discussion between the EU and Russia.
The ARCDEV project should therefore be regarded as a first step towards safe, efficient and cost-effective navigation in the Russian Arctic. The project team recommends the development of a platform to perform the technological development, to foster further discussion and to demonstrate and validate the results.