In September 2011, the DNV-classed Sanko Odyssey, a Panamax ship owned by Tokyo-based Sanko Steamship, became the largest bulk carrier to transit the Northern Sea Route. The voyage also represented the first transit by a Japanese-owned ship.
“This was a historic moment for Sanko Steamship in that this was the largest bulk carrier ever to cross this Northern Sea Route. We are also very proud to be the first Japanese shipping company to make this unique journey,” said Takeshi Matsui, the president of The Sanko Steamship Co., Ltd.
On August 31, the Sanko Odyssey set sail with a cargo of 66,000 tonnes of iron ore concentrate produced at EuroChem’s Kovdor mining company on the Kola Peninsula. The ship then entered the Arctic Ocean basin, passed the Bering Strait and sailed along the coast of the Russia and South Korea. On September 23, the Sanko Odyssey arrived at the Chinese port of Jingtang. As with all vessels on this route, the ship was escorted in along the Northern Sea Route by Atomflot’s nuclear-powered icebreakers.
The Northern Sea Route is about 30% shorter than the traditional shipping route and will save time and fuel and reduce emissions to the environment, including SOx, NOx, Particulate Matter and CO2. The fuel savings alone add up to approximately 750 tonnes. In addition there is no threat of piracy,” said Mr Matsui.
Sanko ordered two ice-class 1A Panamax bulkers from Oshima Shipbuilding and the Sanko Odyssey was delivered in November 2010, while its sister ship the Sanko Orion was delivered in February 2011.
“When we decided to enter this line of business, we chose to work with Oshima Shipbuilding, which specialises in bulk carriers. DNV has classed many of the Oshima-built ships for northern European owners, so it was an obvious choice to use DNV to class these unique vessels,” said
Upon delivery, the vessels were immediately time chartered out to Nordic Bulk Carriers. The vessels were completed just as the Northern Sea Route was opened for commercial navigation.
The charterer Nordic Bulk Carriers specialises in handling iron ores to China on the Arctic route and pioneered the trade using the 45,000-dwt Nordic Barents, which was the first dry bulk carrier flying a foreign flag to sail the Arctic route. The Sanko Odyssey is actually the second foreign-flagged bulk carrier to use the Northern Sea Route as a transit trade lane for transporting iron ore from the northern part of Russia to China via the Northern Sea Route. See the fact box.
This voyage in 2011 by the Sanko Odyssey, as the largest bulk carrier, increased the scale of cargo movement compared with earlier shipments and confirms the business logic of a shorter route.
The charters have confirmed fuel savings alone of approximately 750 tonnes. In addition, there is the saving on the asset, considering that the 23-day voyage reduced the sailing time by 22 days.
“There is no doubt in our minds that the opening of the Northern Sea Route has great commercial potential for both charterers and ship owners,” says Christian Bonfils, the managing director of Nordic Bulk Carriers and the ship’s commercial operator. Mr Bonfils complimented the vessel’s credentials, stating: “The Sanko Odyssey is less than a year old and owned by our joint venture partner Sanko Steamship in Tokyo. She is the largest and most modern bulk carrier with ice class in the world. The vessel has DNV’s “ICE-1A” ice-class, equivalent to Baltic ICE-1A, which is the requirement from the Russian authorities to perform this transit.”
Many parties have been involved in making the Northern Sea Route Transit possible, including the Northern Sea Route Administration under the Russian Ministry of Transportation and Rosatomflot, the operator of Russia’s national icebreaking fleet. Their groundbreaking efforts were made possible by the hard work of all involved parties including, cargo owner, insurance company, P&I Club and DNV.
The Russian ship-transit approval and decision-making process is being speeded up and simplified. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has recently publicly predicted that Arctic shipping routes along Russia’s northern coast will soon rival the Suez Canal as a quicker trade link from Europe to Asia.
“We have taken our first steps on this Northern Sea Route and are confident that we made the right choice in working with DNV. When you have a vessel that is operating in such extreme conditions, it is important to know that you have selected partners with the strongest expertise in Arctic conditions,” said Mr Matsui.
Text: Matthew Flynn