The Russian government has authorised two unreinforced tankers to transport oil via the Northern Sea Route for the first time, prompting warnings of catastrophic spills, The Financial Times reported on Friday.
Neither the Leonid Loza nor the NS Bravo are considered to be ice-class tankers, which are reinforced to withstand freezing conditions and have capabilities to respond to spills. In early September, the two tankers reportedly made their first voyage to China through the Northern Sea Route, which runs along Russia’s Arctic coastline and has been dubbed “one of the most dangerous ice passages on the planet”.
Shipping experts approached by the FT said that while non-ice-class vessels would face fewer risks sailing the route in September and October when the sea ice is thinner, they still potentially risked being crushed.
“I think it’s a clear sign that for Russia selling its energy at any cost trumps the environment,” said an independent Norwegian newspaper High North News reporter, Malte Humpert, who specialises in the coverage of the Arctic. He was the first person to report on one of the tankers, Leonid Loza, being sent on this route by Russia.
A representative from Greenpeace UK agreed with the assessment that “using non-ice-class tankers makes the already high likelihood of an accident that much worse”.
Russia’s nuclear power agency Rosatom told the FT that both vessels had undergone rigorous checks and stressed that environmental considerations were its top priority. The corporation added that “the improved navigation conditions in the summer and autumn months allow non-ice-class ships to operate safely”.
Russia has started to use the Northern Sea Route more frequently since the imposition of Ukraine-war related Western sanctions, the FT noted. Tankers using this route to export oil to Asian markets can cut 10 days off the 45-day journey via the Suez Canal.