One of the most important indicators of the level of development of the Arctic maritime traffic and navigation is the freight transport volume. It is defined by the set of key components: a cargo base, icebreaker support service, the composition of the transport fleet, and established rates for icebreaker assistance. 1987, as we know, had shown record traffic volumes. Currently, we are reestablishing the transit cargo transport runs on the Northern Sea Route, which essentially stopped in the beginning of the 90s. In 2010 navigation, 11 such voyages we made; in 2011, there were 41. These numbers include voyages with cargo loads, ballast and research ones. The total volume of transit-transported goods in 2011 year reached 835 thousand tons. In 2012, 36 transit voyages have been accomplished, with 1.2 million tons of cargo transported. Hopefully, in the future we can expect to transport fertilizer from the Kola peninsula, non-ferrous metals from Norilsk (west-east direction), and from east to west, urea from China, copper-nickel ore from Dudinka, fish products, electronics and other goods along the Northern Sea Route. The export of the items located within the Northern Sea Route in westerly direction, can, in principle, be implemented all year round, and in easterly direction, with the existing icebreaker assistance, in summer-fall seasons. In general, the volume of Arctic marine transportation via the Northern Sea Route by 2020 (or, rather, by 2025), could reach 60-65 million tons per year.
However, some of the problems associated with the development of the Northern Sea Route, are still present today. In the early 90s, the policy actually destroyed the previous management system of the Northern Sea Route. The traditional route, passing along the northern coast of Russia through the Arctic territories is fairly well explored in terms of navigation and geography, but it is available only for vessels with water draft up to 12 meters. Large-capacity ships with greater water draft can use the high-latitude route to the north of Novosibirsk Islands. These territories are not as researched and were not yet subject to regular hydrographic survey.
The question of the construction of a new icebreaker fleet is, without doubt, one of the most important for implementing the Arctic navigation, normal functioning of the Northern Sea Route, and the control of the region in the interests of national security and the protection of the natural environment. However, currently operating nuclear icebreakers have been built mainly in the 80s and the beginning of the 90s. Despite the work on the extension of the nuclear resource of steam generators, according to the state technical standard, these icebreakers will have to be retired from service and scrapped. The linear diesel icebreakers, built mainly in the 70s, except for the two identical icebreakers, Moscow and Saint-Peterburg, built in 2008 and 2009, respectively, have long since exhausted their resources and are subject to recycling, too.
Currently, the most reliable marine radio communication and dissemination of information on navigation safety in the Arctic seas are provided by satellite systems. At high latitudes, problems may arise due to their unstable work under certain conditions. In addition, the system does not cover completely the Northern Sea Route and the route has breaks in the working area of the Eastern Arctic from about 100 to 140 degrees East longitude. Russia, potentially, could bear responsibility for the transmission of navigational information, ensuring the safety of navigation in the seas surrounding the North coast of the country. So far, however, no transmission of information to vessels in short wavelength band is available.
The Arctic ports, with the exception of Dudinka, are the weakest link in this chain. In most cases, the development and improvement of facilities, waste collection and recycling are required. Some ports have no capabilities for transiting vessel repair, in case of need, or the oil spill response means. The villages look very sad: most of the houses are boarded up.
Talking about the development of the Northern Sea Route as of today, the development concept is based on several principles. The state ensures the delivery of socially significant goods to the North, supports the priority branches of the economy of the North: oil and gas industry, mining, steel, wood, and develops the Northern Sea Route federal transport infrastructure: linear icebreakers (including nuclear ones), navigation means, hydrography, meteorology, communications means, search and rescue means. Businesses developing natural resources in the Arctic, in turn, build universal icebreakers-suppliers, and together with the shipping companies, develop the Arctic fleet and oil and gas transport transit terminals by using own and raised monetary funds. The state support is delivered to them in the form of subsidized interest rates on loans in Russian banks for building vessels at domestic shipyards. The port development is implemented by the constituent entities of the Russian Federation, shipping companies and other commercial enterprises.
The Northern Sea Route combines, into a single transport network, the major river arteries of Siberia, serves as the link between the Russian Far East and the West of the country, and is the most important part of the economic infrastructure of the Far North. Now that the region is turning into a zone of interests for many countries (the shortest sea routes between North-Western Europe and the Pacific region markets go through the Arctic), Russia simply must develop the economy of its North and, correspondingly, upgrade its transportation system.