Russia Plans to Use Arctic River To Send Coal Shipments to Asia

President Putin speaking on the importance of the Northern Sea Route in front of the Federal Assembly on 21 February. (Source: Kremlin)

Coal from deep in the heart of Siberia could soon find its way to markets in Asia via the Yenisei River and Russia’s Northern Sea Route. The first shipments could happen as early as this summer.

Russia’s Ministry of Transport is drawing up plans to use the ports of Krasnoyarsk and Lesosibirsk to send coal via the Yenisei River and Northern Sea Route (NSR) to Asia. The Ministry aims to dispatch the initial shipments during the 2023 navigation season.  

The shipments could give a boost to cargo volume along the NSR and help with reaching the annual goal, which stands at 36m tons for this year. In 2022 the route saw 34m tons. According to Russian officials, the use of inland river routes is considered one of the keys to expanding the NSR to its full potential. 

Using rivers to get to the Ocean

During a meeting of the State Commission for the Development of the Arctic, Ministry officials discussed the readiness of the infrastructure of inland water transport to ensure the export transportation of coal, lumber, grain products along the Ob-Irtysh and Yenisei River transport corridors and onward through the water area of ​​the Northern Sea Route to countries of Southeast Asia.

“According to preliminary calculations, the cost of transporting coal along the Yenisei River through the Northern Sea Route satisfies the logistics requirements of the coal company,” explained presidential envoy to the Far Eastern Federal District Yury Trutnev. 

The logistics plan foresees using the river ports of Krasnoyarsk and Lesosibirsk along the Yenisei river to send coal shipments north to the Arctic sea port of Dudinka. The coal would be transshipped onto ocean-going cargo vessels before heading east on the Northern Sea Route to Asia.

The port of Dudinka is located around 375 km from the mouth of the Yenisei and admits ocean-going vessels up to 260m in length and up to a draught of 11.8m

The issue of using the NSR for economic development is a top national priority. Last week Russian President Putin spoke to the Federal Assembly stating that expansion of the capabilities of the Northern Sea Route was essential for solving national problems for the development of Siberia, the Arctic, and the Far East. 

Map showing location of the ports of Dudinka, Krasnoyarsk and Lesosibirsk and the Yenisei river system. (Source: Author’s own work)

Growing coal demand in Asia

With growing demand and competition for liquefied natural gas (LNG), some countries, including Pakistan, are reversing policies for greater LNG imports and are switching back to coal-fired electricity generation.

Pakistan aims to quadruple its coal-fired electricity generation and has put a halt on constructing new gas-fired power plants stating that with the recent boom of LNG in Europe and elsewhere gas had become “unaffordable” for the country. Russian officials thus see a continued strong demand for coal in Asia. 

The NSR has previously been used to ship coal to North America and Asia. In 2013 around 75,000 tons of coal went from the Finnish Baltic port of Pori to Vancouver in Canada on board the bulk carrier Nordic Odyssey.

And in 2021 the bulker Roland Oldendorff traveled from the Russian port of Ust-Luga in the Baltic Sea to South Korea with 100,000 tons of coal produced by the Sibanthracite Group, one of the world’s largest coal producers.

Another Arctic project by the Severnaya Zvezda company, which envisions sending millions of tons of coal from the Taimyr peninsula to markets in Asia such as China and India, was affected by western sanctions in 2022. However, for 2023 the company aims to start shipments of high quality anthracite coal, used in the steel-making process, to China. 

Russian officials, including President Putin, had previously discussed plans with counterparts in Kazakhstan to use the Ob’-Irtysh river system via the Arctic port of Sabetta. The project, which would give the landlocked central-Asian country access to the world’s oceans, was first devised in 2019 but no shipments have occurred yet.

Also read