Thursday, December 3, 2009

News Briefs: Successful Transit of the Northeast Passage

(As seen in the November issue of Pacific Maritime Magazine) Photo:The Russian icebreaker 50 LetPobedyBeluga Foresight leads the 12,744-dwt heavylift ship through an ice field in the Northeast Passage. -Philips Publishing Group File Photo

Near record low sea ice conditions in the Arctic this past summer allowed two German heavylift vessels, the 12,744-dwt twins Beluga Fraternity and Beluga Foresight, to navigate the Northeast Passage between Asia and Europe with commercial cargo, making them the first western merchant vessels to do so. Operated by Germany’s Beluga group, the vessels departed Ulsan, South Korea in late July and spent nearly a month at the Russian port of Vladivostok awaiting various clearances. They then met up with the Russian icebreaker 50 Let Pobedy off Vilkizki Strait on August 31 and moved into the Northeast Passage, the Russian icebreaker Rossia joining the convoy on September 4.

Between September 7 and 14 they were able to safely discharge 44 heavy modules for a Russian water power plant at the mouth of the Ob River before departing for Archangelsk via the Barents Sea. At Archangelsk the ships loaded 6,000 tons of steel pipe each before departing for Onne, Nigeria and a much warmer climate.

Beluga officials, who plan to operate another Northeast Passage sealift next summer with larger “P” class vessels, said there was very little to no ice to break along the route and that the journey saved approximately 3,000 miles and 300,000 euros per vessel compared to traveling via Suez. However, the charter for the voyage, General Electric, had to cover mandatory fees for the Russian icebreaker escort, which were not disclosed.