Arctic Ports        

Arctic Ports

(from AMSA Report 2009)


In temperate maritime areas, deepwater ports and the services they provide are typically relatively close to global maritime shipping and often taken for granted. The situation in the Arctic is quite different. Deepwater ports, places of refuge, marine salvage, adequate port reception facilities for ship-generated waste and towing services are rarely available. The availability of port infrastructure and support directly influences the level of risk associated with transiting a particular waterway and corresponds to the levels of marine insurance rates.

There are few deepwater ports in U.S. or Russian waters near the Bering Strait. The closest U.S. harbor with deep water is Dutch Harbor in the southern Bering Sea. On the Russian Federation side, the nearest deepwater port is Provideniya. Other Russian ports near the Bering Strait that are closed to foreign ships are Egvekinot, Anadyr and Beringovsky.

This situation differs with the region between the Atlantic and Arctic oceans, where there are many Norwegian, Icelandic and Russian deepwater ports. There are a number of deepwater ports along the west coast of Greenland. In the Arctic, there are essentially no deepwater ports along the North Slope of Alaska or throughout the Canadian Archipelago, except for that of Tuktoyaktuk, which, while having a relatively deepwater port, suffers from a shallow approach channel and a high degree of in-fill silting, situated as it is in the delta of the Mackenzie River. Mention should also be made of the limited port facilities at Resolute Bay, in the middle of the archipelago, which acts as a center of transportation, communications and administration for the high Arctic but which can only handle ships of 5m draft alongside a sunken barge used as a dock. Ships of deeper draft must anchor in an open roadstead.

In Hudson Bay, the Port of Churchill is Canada’s only northern deepwater seaport with well sheltered, along-side berthing facilities. It provides access, via rail, to the interior of Canada and North America in general. The growing Port of Churchill offers four berths for the loading and unloading of grain, general cargo and tanker vessels. The Port can efficiently load Panamax size vessels. The link between Murmansk and Churchill has become known as the “Arctic Bridge” since it requires sea and rail systems to complete the transport of goods to North American destinations. The use of the Port of Churchill eliminates time-consuming navigation, additional handling and high-cost transportation through the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway. The current shipping season runs from mid-July to the beginning of November. The use of icebreakers could significantly lengthen the shipping season. Another significant port in the Eastern Canadian Arctic is Iqaluit, which requires that ships anchor and use barges to land their cargo and features some of the highest tides on the planet as well as one of the largest tidal ranges in existence.

The Canadian government has recently proposed an upgrade to the rail link to Churchill, as well as the development of a deepwater port at the old mining town of Nanisivik in Nunavut on Baffin Island, to be used primarily by the Department of National Defence. It is unclear what facilities this port will have since it is not situated near a major population center, major shipping route or railroad. In addition to the proposed port at Nanisivik, future planned development on Baffin Island also includes the iron-ore mine at Mary River under construction by Baffinland Iron Mines Corporation that will include a railroad to the planned port at Steensby Inlet.

In contrast, the northern coast of the Russian Federation has several deepwater ports that have been supported by the Northern Sea Route Authority and fleet of icebreakers for several decades. Murmansk is well known for being the largest deepwater port north of the Arctic Circle that is ice-free throughout the year. Murmansk also provides intermodal access to northern European and Asian industrial centers. In recent years, Russian Arctic ports in the Barents Sea, including Murmansk, have expanded significantly as offshore oil and ore production have increased in the region. Since 2004, more than €4.4 billion have been invested in improving Murmansk’s deepwater port facilities to include new oil, coal and container terminals as well as expanded rail lines. Murmansk port capacities are projected to increase to an annual 28.5 million tonnes by 2010 and 52 million tonnes by 2020. Other Russian Arctic ports along the Northern Sea Route include Pevek, Tiksi, Igarka, Dudinka, Dikson, Vitino, Arkhangelsk and Novy. These ports are well-established and supported by the Russian icebreaker fleet, although many require long river transits to access.

Unique to the region is the Port of Varandey on the Pechora Sea coast. As oil production expands in the Russian Arctic, LUKOIL, in cooperation with ConocoPhillips, has developed Varandey into a deepwater oil export terminal. The Varandey facility consists of an onshore tank farm with a total rated capacity of 325,000 cubic meters (2,000,000 barrels); and an innovative fixed ice-resistant oil terminal 14 miles offshore, with a height of more than 160 feet. The terminal includes living quarters and a mooring cargo handling system with a jib and a helicopter platform; two underwater pipelines, connecting the onshore tank battery and the offshore oil terminal; and an oil metering station, auxiliary tanks, pumping station and power supply facilities. Sovkomflot has one new 70,000 DWT ice-strengthened oil tanker in operation and two being built in South Korean shipyards, to shuttle oil to Murmansk, as well as other locations in Europe and North America.


    Arctic Council, 2009, Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment (AMSA), Arctic Council.©

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