Russia announced plans to open two additional emergency rescue centers along the Northern Sea Route (NSR). The new centers will be located in Pevek and Anadyr in the Chukotka region and will provide additional search and rescue capabilities along the Arctic shipping route.
According to the Ministry of Civil Defense, Emergencies and Disaster Relief (EMERCOM), which oversees the centers, Russia currently operates four centers in the Arctic located in Murmansk, Arkhangelsk, Dudinka, and Naryan-Mar, which opened between 2013-2016.
New EMERCOM centers in the Far East
The construction and opening of the two new facilities has been delayed as federal funds were not allocated in 2016, says Ruslan Nazarov of the Ministry as reported by the TASS news agency.
However, with the planned operation of Russia’s first floating nuclear power plant, the Academician Lomonosov, near Pevek by 2019, additional search and rescue capabilities in the region will be required. Nazarov stressed the importance of an emergency center in proximity to such a “potentially hazardous facility.”
In addition, Anadyr, Russia’s easternmost town, was chosen as location for a second center as it represents the region’s administrative center.
Nazarov further detailed that a third center was planned for Tiksi (Yakutia) and that all locations in the Far East would operate under a common system for Arctic emergency response to reduce response times.
The centers are part of Russia’s plan, first announced in 2010, to open up to ten emergency or preparedness centers along the NSR by 2015. However, much of the infrastructure has been delayed and in 2016 Nikolai Patrushev, Secretary of the Russia’s Security Council, explained that the country aims to establish the centers by 2020.
The centers will cover around 4,000 miles from Murmansk beyond the western terminus of the NSR to Provideniya along the Bering Strait in the east and will be staffed by a personnel of 980.
Four centers operational by 2016
The first center of its kind located in Naryan-Mar in the Nenets Autonomous Okrug became operational in August 2013. It was followed by the base in Dudinka in 2014.
The third center, located in Arkhangelsk, became operational in October 2014. It covers an area of 1.5 million square kilometers in the Arkhangelsk Oblast and Nenets Autonomous Okrug which includes the waters of the Severnaya Dvina, the White Sea, the south-eastern parts of the Barents Sea and the western parts of the Kara Sea.
The fourth center located near Murmansk, which covers more than 847,000 square kilometers in the Barents and White Seas as well as the Kola Peninsula with its staff of 65, began operations in October 2015.
With the continued reduction in sea ice across the Arctic Ocean, the NSR has seen record levels of shipping traffic. In 2016 vessels transported more than 6.9 million tons of goods and construction materials for Russia’s various oil and gas projects, as well as natural resources produced in the Arctic to Asia and Europe.
Thus, the opening of emergency centers along Russia’s NSR comes in response to increasing human activity, such as oil and gas exploration, shipping, mining and tourism across the circumpolar Arctic, explains Professor Michael Byers, Canada Research Chair in Global Politics at the University of British Columbia.
Similarly, Mia Bennett PhD candidate at UCLA’s Dept. of Geography and founder of Cyropolitics, explains that the centers will “enhance the country’s ability to react in the case of an oil spill, a distressed ship, or any number of other emergencies.” However, she cautions that even with the increased capabilities the environmental sustainability of Arctic offshore oil and gas extraction remains in question.
In addition, EMERCOM centers, which operate a range of oceanic and aerial resources, also allow Russia to extend its reach to police shipping routes and fishing grounds, Byers stated.
When Russia opens the three remaining centers, planned for Vorkuta, Nadym, and Provideniya it will operate an interconnected network of SAR facilities along the full length of the NSR allowing it to better respond to the challenges of increased human activity across the region.
Editor’s note: The article has been updated on February 1, 2017.