Introduction to INSROP
Map of the NSR Area
INSROP Project List
INSROP GIS Software and Database of the Northern Sea Route
Northern Sea Route User Conference, Oslo, 18-20 November 1999
Institutions Involved in INSROP Work
Persons Involved in INSROP
Index of this WWW Site
More information about INSROP...
INSROP (International Northern Sea Route Programme) was a six-year (June 1993 March 1999) international research programme designed to create an extensive knowledge base about the ice-infested shipping lanes running along the coast of the Russian Arctic from Novaya Zemlya in the west to the Bering Strait in the east. This route was previously named the Northeast Passage, but is now more often known under its Russian name - the Northern Sea Route (NSR).
The NSR represents an up to 40% saving of distance from Northern Europe to Northeast Asia and the north-west coast of North America compared to southerly sea routes via Suez or Panama. Moreover, the Russian Arctic holds enormous reserves of oil, gas and other natural resources which may best be exported by sea.
As we enter the 21st century, technological, political and even climatic developments are again making the NSR an interesting possibility. Russia officially opened the NSR for foreign ships in 1991, and better and less costly ice-breaking technology is being developed. And although the NSR is impeded by ice and Russian political instability, the Suez and Panama Canals have their own inherent problems of draft limitations, which may be avoided on the NSR. Furthermore, political instability in the Middle East, the piracy problem in SE Asia, and a new political regime for the Panama Canal may also act to benefit the NSR. There are also indications that global warming may gradually improve the ice conditions of the NSR.
In spite of this, the Northern Sea Route has so far not been utilised commercially to a significant degree by non-Russian vessels.
Acknowledging the need to establish an extensive NSR knowledge base, the multidisciplinary INSROP was created to investigate all aspects of potential, increased, international use of the NSR. The programme, which has primarily been a joint Norwegian-Japanese-Russian venture, enlisted more than 450 scholars in 14 countries.
In all, 167 technical reports on a very broad spectre of subjects have been published, as well as several other end products (INSROPs Integration Book, INSROPs Simulation Study, the INSROP GIS Database and the NSR Environmental Atlas) which have integrated the INSROP results in different ways. All products have been made available to the public. The Project has also resulted in several books that have been published by international, academic publishers. Shortly after the completion of the programme, the Northern Sea Route User Conference was organized by the main INSROP partners in Oslo, Norway, 18-20 November 1999, in order to disseminate INSROP results to the shipping industry and other potential NSR users and stake-holders.
The most obvious obstacles to commercially viable shipping in the NSR are the harsh natural conditions, including ice most of the year. Even though modern technology can overcome such practical difficulties, the investments needed to build a fleet of adequate ice-classified cargo vessels are staggering. An equally big problem, is for Russia to muster the political and economic strength needed to uphold a stable, well-functioning infrastructure along the NSR, the most crucial task being to maintain the capacity of the Russian ice-breaker fleet.
The main conclusion of INSROPs research is that a substantial increase in international commercial shipping is feasible in economic, technological and environmental terms. The largest and most obvious cargo potential is found in the huge oil and gas reserves in the Russian Arctic both onshore and offshore where marine export towards western markets is likely to start up early in the new Century. As for transit traffic, INSROPs survey of the main cargo-generating regions at the western and eastern ends of the NSR (NW Europe, NE Asia and the North American West Coast) identified a stable transit cargo potential, most notably for dry bulk. Calculations comparing the NSR with Suez have identified several scenarios in which the NSR will be the most profitable alternative, using already existing suitable vessels and provided that Russia adopts a reasonable tariff policy for the route. When it comes to the building of new vessels, built especially for NSR transits, INSROP was not able to identify any realistic scenarios under current market, technological and climatic conditions where it would be more profitable to invest in the building of such vessels than in the building of "ordinary" vessels to be used through Suez. The technology needed for building operationally and environmentally safe ice breaking cargo vessels is clearly within reach, but a development towards less costly technology and larger ship types is required. Ecologically vulnerable areas, as well as areas of special importance to local indigenous peoples, have been identified and mapped, and may largely be avoided. The main problems which will need to be solved before the NSRs potential can be fully utilized, are on the political level. The Russian ice-breaker fleet is slowly, but steadily, deteriorating, and continuing economic and political turmoil in Russia makes it difficult to raise the necessary investments towards upgrading and maintaining an adequate infrastructure for the NSR. The economic and political problems have so far also prevented Russia from establishing a stable, competitive tariff regime.
More Information about INSROP
INSROP was completed in March 1999, and some information contained at this site may be outdated. However, for some years to come, you will be able to order publications and getting other information about INSROP by contacting:
The INSROP Secretariat
The Fridtjof Nansen Institute
Tel: +47 67111900
Fax: +47 67111910
This page was last updated 11.01.2001.