Russia and China could begin operating a year-round shipping route through the Arctic Circle after state nuclear agency Rosatom signed an agreement with a Chinese shipping line. 

The partnership with Hainan Yangpu NewNew Shipping will see the companies jointly operate the line and also includes the design and construction of new ice-class container ships for the Northern Sea Route (NSR). 

Signed at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum, the deal will expand NewNew’s existing activity along the route, which included seven voyages in 2023 and is expected to rise to 12 in 2024. 

Vladimir Panov, Rosatom’s special representative for Arctic Development, highlighted the growth of the route and Rosatom’s plans for its future, saying: “Our main task is to build up to five Arctic-class vessels, which will allow the company to operate on the Northern Sea Route year-round.” 

The agency said it was expecting a record cargo flow of three million tonnes (mt) through the NSR in 2024 but was aiming to eventually see 50mt of cargo carried on the route with the new agreement. 

Increased activity along the route would strengthen Russia’s position in the maritime industry after European shipping companies mostly cut ties with Russian operators following the country’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022. 

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The route has been the subject of much interest from the country for years with a joint venture launched in 2023 between Rosatom and the Dubai-based DP World also looking to develop container shipping in the Arctic region. 

The Russian company’s fleet of nuclear-powered icebreakers is the only one in the world and provides much quicker access between Asia and Europe through the NSR compared with the conventional route through the Suez Canal, which is also currently beset by issues relating to unrest in the region.