Dredging will connect Siberia with the Northern Sea Route

The depth of the Ob River in some places can reach up to 1.1 m. Credit: Vladislav Vorotnikov

Russian officials discussed some dredging projects on the Ob River in order to connect the biggest Siberian cities with the Northern Sea Route (NSR).  

With a length of 3,500 km, Ob is the world’s seventh longest river. It flows from southern Siberia to the Gulf of Ob, which is a part of the NSR.  

The government of Novosibirsk Oblast has been seeking funding from the federal budget for the dredging on the Ob River, Andrey Travnikovgovernor of the region, unveiled at a press conference in the city of Tomsk, Russia, on 21 November.  

It’s important to establish connection between the Novosibirsk Oblast and northwest Siberia where cargo carriers are delivering nonmetalliferous goods for local oil and gas companies,” Travnikov said. 

That project would contribute to the increase of the cargo flow on the NSR to 80 million tonnes by 2024, in accordance with the instructions given by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Travnikov said.  

The dredging is necessary because of the shallowing of some sections of the Ob River, especially during the summer months, said Ivan Bukhovets, director of the shipping department of the local cargo carrier Tomsk Shipping Company. A barge with cargo has a minimum gauge of 2.6 m, while the depth of Ob River in some sections could be close to 1.1 mBukhovets said.  

From May to August, cargo carriers have to run barges with half or even less load, so they are suffering losses, Bukhovets admitted. As of 20 October, the cargo turnover in Ob basin was amounted to 7.7 million in 2019, 10% down as compared with the same period of the previous year, the government operator Severrechflot estimated.  

The cargo turnover on the Ob and Irtysh River could significantly change with the development of the infrastructure on the NSR, Severrechflot said in a statement issued on 13 November. This transport artery has a huge potential in transferring goods from Europe, East, and Southeast Asia to the regions of Siberia and Central Asia, especially for those types of cargo, transportation of which is not effective through railways or highways.  

In addition, this route is rather attractive for transportation of hydrocarbons from Siberia to China, India, and Central Asia, Severrechflot added.  

Dredging on Irtysh  

In addition, the regional government of Omsk Oblast has recently said it was planning dredging on the Irtysh River – the chief tributary of the Ob River. In Kazakhstan and Russia, tankers, passenger, and freight boats navigate the river during the ice-free season, between April and October.  

The dredging on the river could boost the grain supplies transported from some 200,000 tonnes in 2018 to 9 million tonnes, the Omsk government said in a statement on 11 November. It takes RUB2,600 (USD45) to transport one metric tonne of grain to Kazakhstan by railway, while on a river barge it would cost only USD11, the regional government said.  

It would take USD110 to transport one metric tonne of grain to Japan via the Ob River and the NSR, while the current logistics cost of delivery grain from Siberia via the railway system is USD180.