quarta-feira, 25 de agosto de 2010

Scf Baltica and the Northern Sea Route

Typical interest gathers around this time of the year, regarding the Northern Sea Route and Northwest Passage. From the Northwest passage, we will be hearing about it soon, as conditions are getting better, despite some surprise from the adventurers:

Later the same evening, on receiving the daily ice chart, we came face to face with the sombre reality. For some unforeseeable reason, the ice further north had shifted and blocked Franklin Strait. And in Larson Sound, it had also moved eastward and was now less than fifteen miles off the shore. This will keep us in Gjoa Haven for a little longer but hopefully not too long!

Meanwhile, in the Northern Sea Route, the big news seems to be the fact that Scf Baltica is making it's way through. The article is clear about the difficulties it has encountered:

Russian television has shown the tanker making cautious progress through chunky sheets of ice in the wake of the steel-rimmed ice breakers, as a polar bear loped across ice floes within shouting distance of the ships.

Baltica left Murmansk on August 14th, followed by the nuclear ice breakers "Rossiya", "Taymyr" and "50 years of Victory". Baltica has already arrived at Pevek, in the Chukotka Peninsula, and no more ice will delay its route to China.

Ship tracking sites like http://www.sailwx.info/ give interesting information. One can see that Scf Baltica has gone undercover since July 15th. One can also track Taymyr, Rossiya and 50 years of Victory, all of them in the northern seas. In the image below, obtained from http://www.sailwx.info/shiptrack/shiplocations.phtml, August 25th, 16:00 UTC, only the nuclear ice-breakers are mapped in the Kara, Laptev and East Siberian Sea:

The temperatures given by the ships are also very interesting. All the three icebreakers are experiencing near freezing temperatures, although Rossiya registered 12.7ºC on August 21th, 6AM.

These media stunts have occurred in the past, and created a lot of confusion. But the whole truth is never told or remembered. In mid July, two Russian tankers collided with each-other, carrying diesel-fuel somewhere along the North East Passage. The passage also involves sailing around Novaya Zemlya, a major nuclear testing site in the Cold War. Most important, this route, that has been opened since 1932, is only navigable with mighty nuclear icebreakers during a few weeks of August and September...

Finally, the price tag in completely unknown. How much do three nuclear icebreakers cost? And how about insurance for the ships? Not counting on what Russia hopes to tax this shipping in the future...