It is well-known that navigating the waterway from the primary trade hubs in northern Europe to the Asia-Pacific ports and contrariwise along the Russian Arctic Coast (Northern Sea Route - NSR) is much shorter and faster, than southern ways via Suez or around Africa. The NSR can significantly save costs (through saving time and fuel) and avoids the risk of attack by pirates. In addition, an increase in oil and gas activity in the North, forecasts of global warming and an ice-free Arctic have stimulated interest in Arctic navigation. However, Arctic transportation poses significant challenges because of the heavy ice conditions that exist during both the winter and summer. The profitability of using the NSR is called into question if possible high tariffs are included in the cost estimates.

For many years, the NSR was principally used for internal Russian transport and since the end of the 1980s up until 2010, it was in stagnation with total amount of cargo transported annually stood at less than two million tons. Important political decisions in the 90s and increased economic feasibility intensified traffic and freight turnover. In 2013, the NSR Administration (NSRA) was established, new rules for navigation were approved and tariff policies were modified. In 2013, the NSRA issued 635 permits to sail in NSR waters, and 71 transit voyages have since been completed. The total amount of transit cargo was 1.36 million tons. More than 40% of the total number of permits were issued to vessels without ice class [1] according to the Russian Maritime Register of Shipping [2]. There are strong technical requirements for vessels attempting to sail the NSR; regardless, several accidents occurred in 2012–2013. Two vessels were dented by ice in the Chukchi Sea in 2012. A tanker was holed in September 2013 and created a real danger of an ecological disaster from fuel leakage for several days. Despite the expectation of an ice-free Arctic, the ice conditions in 2013 were rather difficult, and the Vilkitsky Strait (a key strait in the NSR between the Kara and Laptev seas) was closed by ice for almost the entire navigation period.

In this paper, we review the current situation in the Russian Arctic, including political and administrative actions, recent accidents and the associated conditions and lessons learned.

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