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India and the Northern Sea Route

As per recent information, Murmansk, popularly called the capital of the Arctic region, India and the Northern Sea Route...


As per recent information, Murmansk, popularly called the capital of the Arctic region and the beginning point of the Northern Sea Route (NSR), is witnessing the rising trend of Indian involvement in cargo traffic. India has been showing greater interest regarding the NSR for a variety of reasons.

Why is the Arctic region significant to India?

  • The Arctic region is above the Arctic Circle and includes the Arctic Ocean with the North Pole at its centre.
  • The vulnerability of this region to unprecedented changes in the climate may have an impact on India in terms of economic security, water security and sustainability.
  • The region also constitutes the largest unexplored prospective area for hydrocarbons remaining on the earth.
  • As per experts, the region may hold over 40 percent of the current global reserves of oil and gas. There may also be significant reserves of coal, zinc and silver.

India’s engagement with the Arctic

  • India’s engagement with the Arctic can be traced to the signing of the Svalbard Treaty in February 1920 in Paris.
  • India is undertaking several scientific studies and research in the Arctic region. This encompasses atmospheric, biological, marine, hydrological and glaciological studies.
  • Apart from setting up a research station, Himadri, at Svalbard, in 2008, the country launched its inaugural multi-sensor moored observatory and northernmost atmospheric laboratory in 2014 and 2016 respectively.
  • Till last year, thirteen expeditions to the Arctic were successfully conducted.
  • In May 2013, India became an observer-state of the Arctic Council along with five others including China.

What is Northern Sea Route (NSR)?

Eastern and western regions of the Arctic Ocean are connected via the Northern Sea Route (NSR), sometimes known as the Northeast Passage (NEP).

  • The NSR route between Europe and Asia is just 13,000 km long, compared to the 21,000 km covered by the Suez Canal route, which reduces the travel duration from one month to less than two weeks.
  • The whole path, which has been dubbed the Northeast Passage and is comparable to Canada’s Northwest Passage, is located in the Arctic seas and within Russia’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
  • The NSR runs from the Barents Sea, near Russia’s border with Norway, to the Bering Strait between Siberia and Alaska.
  • Since the Barents Sea is not a part of the Northern Sea Route itself, the Atlantic is not reached.

Currently, the Northern Sea Route brings supplies of food, equipment, fuel, and minerals into Siberia’s major rivers and ports along the Arctic coast.

The Northern Sea Route only has ice-free weather in certain places for two months out of the year, but as the Arctic ice covers melt, traffic along the route will undoubtedly rise.

  • Since the mid-1930s the Northern Sea Route has been an officially managed and administered shipping route along the northern/Arctic coast of Russia.
  • In August 2017, the first ship traversed the Northern Sea Route without the use of icebreakers.
  • The Arctic ice has been melting faster due to global warming, and few studies have predicted that the route will be ice-free by 2030.
  • However, despite several attempts, the NSR’s development as an alternative to the Suez Canal has remained limited to research because of the region’s harsh natural environment.

Challenges of NSR

  • At best, the Arctic is not a benign environment, and as the earth warms, it is getting more unstable.
  • The Arctic is seeing twice as rapid a rise in surface temperatures as the rest of the world.
  • Extreme cold occurrences are occurring more frequently in Russia and Europe as a result of this heat reducing the stability of the polar vortex air circulation.
  • The paths of northern storms are also altering due to unusual jet stream patterns.
  • The Laptev Strait’s shallow depth, which is a few hundred miles east of the Lena River’s mouth, is the NSR’s main obstacle.
  • The strait restricts the size of ships passing the NSR to those with an Arcticmax draught of 12 meters.
  • Analysts have also noted that the new channel, which is far away and scantly supervised, may be used by terrorists to transport weapons.
  • As Russia and China intensify their efforts, the High North’s growing economic potential, which is thought to hold a fourth of the world’s untapped petroleum reserves, has also elevated the region to the status of “profound importance” for NATO.
  • Ships and workers navigating the NSR face dangers due to unpredictable and harsh weather conditions as well as inadequate search-and-rescue resources and infrastructure.

How is Russia making the NSR navigable?

  • As the seas of the Arctic Ocean remain icebound during most of the year, the icebreaking assistance is organised to ensure safe navigation along the NSR.
  • Russia is the only country in the world with a nuclear-powered icebreaker fleet.

Driving factors for India to participate in the NSR development

  • With India increasingly importing crude oil and coal from Russia in recent years, NSR provides a reliable and safe transport route.
  • The NSR, as a transit route, assumes importance, given India’s geographical position and the major share of its trade associated with sea transportation.
  • The Chennai-Vladivostok Maritime Corridor (CVMC) project is being examined as one linking with another organise international container transit through the NSR.
    • The 10,500 km-long CVMC, passing through the Sea of Japan, the South China Sea and Malacca Strait, will bring down transport time to 12 days.
    • This is almost a third of what is taken under the existing St. Petersburg-Mumbai route of 16,000 km.
  • Experts are discussing the possibility of China and Russia gaining collective influence over the NSR.

Read also:- International North – South Transport Corridor

India and the Northern Sea Route,India and the Northern Sea Route,India and the Northern Sea Route

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