Russia lacks ice-class vessels to develop Arctic sea route, talks to China, India - RBC

St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF)

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia must boost production facilities for the construction of ice-breaking vessels in order to meet its targets for increasing trade via the Northern Sea route, Moscow's official in charge of Arctic development has said.

The government has been in talks with India and China on such projects, Alexei Chekunkov, the head of Russia's Ministry for the Development of the Russian Far East and Arctic, told RBC media.

Russia has long viewed the route, which runs from Murmansk near Russia's border with Norway eastwards to the Bering Strait near Alaska, as an alternative to the Suez Canal, and has plans to boost trade via the Arctic already next year.

President Vladimir Putin last month told the meeting of BRICS countries - Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa - that Russia was looking to develop flagship projects, including the Northern Sea route with the need to construct new ports, fuel terminals and an expanded icebreaker fleet.

Chekunkov said 34 million tons of cargo were supplied via the route last year and the same amount is expected this year. Russia plans to more than double the amount, to 80 million tons, already next year and to 200 million tons by 2031.

"Perhaps my greatest concern is the availability of ice-class fleet in sufficient amounts. It's just there is not yet enough (icebreakers) in the world that necessary to transport 200 million tons in seven to eight years," the minister said.

Russia has plans to construct 50 icebreakers and ice-class vessels for the Northern Sea route by 2035.

The main problem was the lack of shipyards to produce the icebreakers. Chekunkov said there have been talks with China and India on joint cooperation in the construction of vessels.

"India is interested in working together to develop northern navigation and potentially in joint shipbuilding. This is a fairly large Ocean power. (And) of course, China," he said.

(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; Editing by Angus MacSwan)