India has key first-mover edge on China in Iran

India doubling down on Iran’s Chabahar port project as strategic counter to China’s Belt and Road gains trade traction

By FM SHAKIL

When China clinched a massive $400 billion bilateral investment pact with Iran, few noted that India was already well-engaged.

By the end of May, India will begin full-scale operations in its first foreign port venture at Iran’s Chabahar. That is facility that opens on the Gulf of Oman that will aim to facilitate more South Asia, Central Asia and Middle East trade while bypassing Pakistan.

India’s US$500 million investment represents a clear and potent commercial challenge to China’s massive port investment in neighboring Pakistan’s Gwadar. Gwadar is a key component of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

The 10-year lease agreement, a deal first clinched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Tehran in 2016, has until now been hobbled by US sanctions imposed under the Donald Trump administration.  

Indian suppliers and engineers, some with interests in the US, were reluctant to deliver essential machinery and services to Iran on fears they could somehow be sanctioned, despite clear exemptions on Chabahar in Trump’s sanction order. That led to certain speculation that China may take over the project from India.

New Delhi has doubled down and accelerated the project with the shift from Trump to Biden. It is banking like others on a new breakthrough on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear agreement and a broader US-Iran warming trend.

Aerial view of Iran’s Chabahar port. Image: Twitter

India has supplied two large cargo-moving cranes. It will deliver two more in the coming weeks before the facility’s expected ceremonial opening.

New Delhi is already promoting the port’s potential humanitarian role, noting it was used to send emergency shipments of wheat to Afghanistan during the Covid-19 crisis and pesticide to Iran to deal with a recent locust infestation.

Pakistan is getting worried about losing regional trade

India’s renewed commitment to Iran via Chabahar is already setting alarm bells ringing in neighboring Pakistan, which is already losing regional trade mainly from Afghanistan to Iran despite US sanctions.

India and Pakistan recently announced a renewed commitment to an existing 2003 ceasefire over contested Kashmir. That move that should allow both to focus more on economic linkages than strategic rivalry.

Chabahar has seen limited operations since 2019, a result of US restrictions imposed on Iran’s energy exports. The port handled a mere 123 vessels with 1.8 million tons of bulk and general cargo from February 2019 to January 2021. It is well below its operating capacity, according to reports.

That’s set to change. New Delhi ultimately aims to link Chabahar to its International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC). It is a project initially proposed by India, Russia and Iran in 2000 and later joined by 10 other Central Asian nations.

Some see the INSTC as a less-monied rival to China’s BRI. Belt-Road-Initiative has invested heavily in Pakistan’s road, power and trade infrastructure. And including huge multi-billion dollar investments at Gwadar port some critics have likened to a debt trap.

Security concerns sparked by armed groups in Pakistan’s Balochistan province, where Gwadar is situated, have hindered progress on various BRI projects and pushed Pakistan to recently ramp up security at the Beijing-invested port.

From India to Europe – cheaper and faster

INSTC envisions a 7,200 kilometer-long, multimode network comprised of shipping, rail and road links. It is connecting India’s Mumbai with Europe via Moscow and Central Asia. Initial estimates suggest INSTC could cut current carriage costs by about 30% and travel times by half.

That means more trade and port activity for Iran and less for Pakistan. Last year Iran has already usurped 70% of Pakistan’s recent transport business at Karachi port.

Landlocked Afghanistan has traditionally relied on Pakistan as its gateway to international shipping routes. However, recent trends indicate that as much as 70% of Afghan transit trade is now handled by Iran.

If India presses ahead as planned with INSTC, Pakistan would be the ultimate loser as Afghan and Central Asian transport business diverts increasingly to Chabahar and away from Karachi and Gwadar.

“Iran had already started working on a 600-kilometer-long railway line connecting Chabahar port to Zahedan, the provincial capital of Sistan-Baluchestan province close to the Afghan border,” he said.

India has already lined up $1.6 billion for the project to facilitate the movement of goods to and from Afghanistan via Iran. India also plans to invest $2 billion to develop supporting infrastructure including the Chabahar-Hajigak railway line in Afghanistan.

Many Afghan traders are plugging into Chabahar

Many Afghan traders still rely on traditional transit routes through Pakistan. However, many are plugging into Chabahar’s comparative cost-effectiveness and speed in handling transit cargo, analysts say. The same is true for Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and other landlocked Central Asian countries looking for alternatives to Pakistani ports.      

Pakistan-Afghanistan trade has recently fallen from around $2.5 billion to $1 billion annually due to wide-ranging differences over the now expired transit agreement.

“Afghans want Pakistan to allow Afghan wheelers to enter into Indian border areas through Wagah for transportation of Afghan export goods and on return upload import consignments from India,”

“Pakistan on the other hand argues that the APTTA is a bilateral arrangement between Pakistan and Afghanistan and not a trilateral agreement to facilitate mutual trade between India and Afghanistan,”.

Chabahar is Iran’s only oceanic port and so far consists of Shahid Kalantari and Shahid Beheshti terminals. Each of which has five berth facilities. The port is located in Iran’s Sistan and Baluchestan Province. It is about 120 kilometers southwest of Pakistan’s Balochistan province, where the China-funded Gwadar port is situated.

In May 2016, India, Iran and Afghanistan signed a trilateral agreement for the strategically-located Chabahar to give New Delhi access to Kabul and Central Asia without having to travel through Pakistan.

Chabahar is regional project unlike Gwadar which is China oriented

The original plan committed at least $21 billion to the so-called Chabahar–Hajigak corridor, which then included $85 million for Chabahar port development, a $150 million credit line to Iran, an $8 billion India-Iran MoU for Indian industrial investment in a Chabahar special economic zone, and $11 billion for the Hajigak iron and steel mining project awarded to seven Indian companies in central Afghanistan.

Unlike Chabahar, which is designed more to serve the economic and trade interests of the wider region, Gwadar is more tilted toward Beijing’s ambitions, analysts and traders say.

Gwadar port’s planned capacity will accommodate a massive 300 to 400 million tons of cargo annually, comparable to the combined annual capacity of all Indian ports. It also dwarfs the 10-12 million tons of cargo handling capacity now planned for Chabahar.

In another comparison, the largest US port at Long Beach, California, handles 80 million tons of cargo, about a quarter of what Gwadar could handle upon completion of a project that is designed largely to receive and move China’s, not the region’s, trade.

New sleeper train routes in Europe

Sleeper trains in Europe are poised to make a huge comeback after four national railway companies announced new routes that will link up 13 cities across the continent. The announcement marks the biggest extension of the European night train network in years – it was just four years ago that Deutsche Bahn, Germany’s state railway, sold off all its sleeper cars, declaring them unprofitable because of low passenger numbers

Climate change and the coronavirus pandemic are changing how travelers get from A to B. Some European train journeys are actually faster than flying. Now the state railways in Germany, Austria, France and Switzerland are forming a partnership. $605 million investment fund to revive nighttime services.

Five routes are expected to launch in the next four years. By December 2021, a new night service will operate between Vienna and Paris via Munich. Also between Zurich and Amsterdam. Trains between Zurich and Rome will be on the schedule from December 2022. December 2023 will see another service between Vienna and Paris that travels via Berlin and Brussels. Night trains will also start to run between Zurich and Barcelona from December 2024.

Separately, Sweden announced earlier this year that it’s planning to introduce a new international night train service to Germany and Belgium by 2022. The new route would connect Swedish cities to Hamburg and Brussels. So allowing for fast connections to central Europe and the UK.

A new low-cost night train between Prague and the Croatian coast started this past summer. It was such an instant hit that the service was increased to run every night. In its inaugural weeks, more than 30,000 tickets were sold. Some trains were entirely booked out. Probably thanks to tickets that were priced as low as €22 one way.

Long-distance train waits at the Malmo Railway Station, Sweden holgs/Getty Images

See 10 of the best sleeper trains in Europe

Turkey becomes the center of the region’s railway communication

The railway will go directly to Baku, Tehran and Islamabad

The ambitious project of the Turkish authorities can revive business activity in almost the entire Turkic region.

It is not the first time that Turkey has been demonstrating its intentions to seize absolute leadership in its region. After the end of the Karabakh conflict in favor of Azerbaijan, the integration of economies may become even closer.

One of the points of the peace agreement assumes that Armenia will allocate a strip of its territory in the south for the construction of a railway line between Nakhichevan (an Azerbaijani exclave in Armenia) and the main territory of Azerbaijan. For Turkey, this may be a chance to establish direct rail links with Azerbaijan. In particular, with the capital of the republic, Baku.

Turkey is now connected by rail with Azerbaijan – but it passes through Georgia 

The fact is that back in 1993 the direct road through Armenia was closed. The new Baku-Tbilisi-Kars branch was completed in 2017. In fact, a section of about 100 kilometers was completed. It was planned to run passenger trains on it in 2020.

Now Kars can be connected to Baku via a new branch – Turkey directly borders on Nakhichevan (the border is about 11 kilometers). The construction of the 230-kilometer road Kars – Igdir – Nakhichevan will begin this year. It will cost 2 billion Turkish lira. In fact, Turkey will receive a faster railway route with Azerbaijan, and without entering the territory of other countries (as in the case of a branch through Tbilisi). For this, Azerbaijan must build a road from Nakhichevan to its main territory.

The Turkish authorities are already close to launching a larger railway route. Trains are expected to start soon from Istanbul via Tehran to Islamabad. It is planned to connect the capital of Turkey with the “rising star of Asia” Pakistan via a 6443-kilometer railway. Of these, 1,850 kilometers will pass through the territory of Turkey, 2,603 ​​kilometers through Iran and 1,900 kilometers through Pakistan.

Due to the fact that in Iranian Zahedan it will be necessary to reload cargo (change of track gauge), the whole journey will take about 14 days. However, this is much faster than the existing sea route from Istanbul to Islamabad. That takes an average of 21 days. The acceleration of the route by a week will increase the volume of trade between the countries. Road connection with Nakhichevan will contribute to the economic growth of the republic.


ITI Corridor

The Istanbul-Tehran-Islamabad, or ITI corridor, was launched in 2009 within the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) framework, an Asian political and economic intergovernmental organisation. Various test journeys were carried out, but it has not become a stable regular service since then. A year ago, rumours concerning the service’s re-operation made the news, but they remained a theory.

Earlier this year, Turkey, Iran and Pakistan initiated discussions aiming to start anew and finally launch the long-awaited service. The three countries did not specify the time frame for the outset of operations, and they implied that this would happen at some point during 2021. However, it seems that approximately a month later, the trilateral coalition is ready to realise what it has been visioning for ten years now.

Part of the New Silk Road

Pakistan wants to connect the ITI corridor with China’s Belt and Road network through its ML-1 railway line. It is the largest component of the China-Pakistan economic corridor (CPEC). Despite the potential, the realisation of this project still faces some infrastructural and financial hurdles.

The ML-1 railway project was still unfinished when discussions concerning the route restarted. Without it, running trains through the Balochistan Province in Pakistan is impossible. Infrastructure in this region cannot handle the same trains as in Turkey and Iran. Tracks are over a century old, and natural conditions do not make the situation easier since sand dunes cover them in many parts. The finalisation of the ML-1 project was critical to connect ITI with BRI since it seemed to be the prerequisite for the re-opening of the line.

The North-South corridor and the Eurasia canal

From Russian point of view

The accident of the container ship Ever Given in the Suez Canal, which blocked this important transport artery for almost a week, sparked discussions on alternative routes for the delivery of goods from Asia to Europe. One such alternative is the so-called North-South corridor and the associated Eurasia Canal project. They are able to connect the center of the continent and the Gulf region with the markets of Europe.

At the same time, the implementation of these logistics projects is impossible without Russia. Why are both routes interesting for world trade?

Nursultan, move the sea!

The agreements on the implementation of the North-South International Transport Corridor (ITC) project – from the Indian port of Mumbai (Bombay) through the Persian Gulf, Iran, the Caspian Sea and further through our country up to the ports of the Baltic Sea and western borders – were signed by Russia. India and Iran in St. Petersburg back in 2000. The 7200 km route avoids the passage of the Suez Canal and the roundabout route around all of Europe, transporting goods from India and the Persian Gulf countries through Russian territory directly to the markets of Northern and Western Europe.

In turn, the Eurasia canal adjoins the North-South corridor and brings it to the countries of Eastern and Southern Europe. This navigable canal should connect the Caspian and Azov Seas and pass through the bitter-salt lake Manych-Gudilo and the Manych depression. The maximum height of depression is only 20 meters above sea level.

The idea of ​​”Eurasia” arose much earlier, in the 1930s, even before the construction of the Volga-Don Canal. Such a deep-water channel would allow not only river-sea vessels to enter the Caspian, but also large sea-going ships. For the first time in modern times, the idea of ​​building a canal was returned at the interstate level in 2007. It was during a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and the head of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Both projects are not purely maritime transport routes. Rather, they are similar to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which uses Eurasian connectivity across inland seas, roads, and railways. So-called “combined” transport corridors. Such corridors include not only port-to-port maritime transport. They also include significant land sections that complement maritime transport.

Benefits for Kazakhstan

In the usual comparison, of course, road and rail transport lose out to sea transport. In case of combined transport, direct comparison often does not work. Take Kazakhstan: this country is located in the very center of Eurasia – and in one way or another it is forced to rely on roads and railways to trade with the world. And the closer the conditional sea comes to the borders of Kazakhstan, the easier and cheaper it will be for Astana to send its goods for export and receive imported goods from abroad.

By itself, the Caspian Sea is unsuitable for this: it is an isolated seawater that does not communicate with the World Ocean by deep-water transport. But if you connect the Caspian with the Black Sea, which already has access to the ocean routes through the Bosphorus, and provide rail transportation to the Persian Gulf region, then Kazakhstan’s entry into the world market will be much easier.

Ukrainian rake

At first glance, Russia’s interest in the North-South corridor and the Eurasia channel is not so obvious. After all, let’s say, cargo from Central Asia, which today goes to Europe on our railways, will then be sent directly by sea vessels from the Caspian ports belonging to Kazakhstan or Turkmenistan. After that, the sea vessel will transport them either to the ports of Iran, or straight to Europe through “Eurasia”.

However, there is a certain flaw in this logic. The geographical advantage should not be abused. This is clearly shown by the example of Ukraine. Ukraine, being a practical monopoly on the transit of Russian gas to Europe in the mid-1990s, completely squandered this unique potential in less than 30 years. Russia simply built bypass routes around Ukraine.

The development of the future logistics of the Caspian region can follow the same logic. There is an alternative version of the shipping channel between the Caspian and the Black Sea. That should pass through Azerbaijan and Georgia, along the valleys of the Kura and Rioni rivers. The British even tried to dig such a canal in the early 1920s. However, the annexation of Menshevik Georgia to Russia closed the possibility for its construction. Today such plans are cherished by Turkey. Turkey wants to link Central Asia with its territory through Azerbaijan and Georgia, and in the future through Armenia.

Iran as counterweight to Turkey

If Russia retains control over important sections of the North-South corridor in cooperation with Iran and provides a deep-water sea route to the Caspian through its territory, this will not only reduce the cost of logistics for a number of Asian countries, but also reliably “tie” them to Russia. In addition, Iran is a natural counterweight to Turkey in the region, which was clearly demonstrated during the recent aggravation of the Karabakh conflict.

As for our railways, you don’t have to worry about them. There is quite enough work for Russian Railways within the framework of the increased trade turnover along the North-South corridor. The decrease in trade turnover due to sea vessels passing through Eurasia will be offset by canal fees collected from them.

The main effect of the implementation of both projects may be the creation of two Russian transport corridors at once. They will compete with all the “southern” routes from Asia to Europe. Including the route through the Suez Canal and around the Cape of Good Hope. Russia becomes not only a transport hub, but also a guarantor of stability for many countries of Eurasia. Such an intracontinental transport corridor is much less dependent on unexpected changes in the geopolitical situation. Or the West’s desire to grossly interfere in world trade through sanctions, embargoes and other restrictions.

Author: Alexey Anpilogov


On June 15, 2007, at the 17th Foreign Investors’ Council Meeting in Ust-Kamenogorsk, President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan proposed the Eurasia Canal project to build a canal connecting the Caspian and Black Seas. The project was estimated to cost US$6 billion and take 10 years to complete.[7][8]

Wikipedia

If built, the nearly 700 km (430 mi) Eurasia Canal would be four times longer than the Suez Canal and eight times longer than the Panama Canal. President Nazarbayev stated that the canal would make Kazakhstan a maritime power and benefit many other Central Asian nations as well.[7] Russia has proposed an alternative plan to upgrade the existing Volga-Don Canal.

Wikipedia

Declassified – An alternative to the Suez Canal

In 1963, the United States developed a plan to build a canal from the Mediterranean Sea to the Gulf of Aqaba through Israel. It would become an alternative to the Suez Canal. To dig the channel, it was planned to arrange a series of nuclear explosions in the Negev desert. The project was not implemented due to fears of a negative reaction from neighboring Arab countries. Historian Alex Wellerstein recalled the idea of ​​more than half a century ago in connection with the blocking of the Suez Canal by a grounded container ship

In the 1960s, the United States considered the creation of an artificial waterway that could serve as an alternative to the Suez Canal. It was assumed that the watercourse will pass through the territory of Israel. The American memorandum of 1963 with the corresponding project was declassified in 1996. Now historian Alex Wellerstein remembered about him, having posted a post on his Twitter.

The scientist noted that for the implementation of the plan, it would be required to use 520 atomic bombs

The memorandum was prepared by the Livermore National Laboratory. E. Lawrence (laboratory of the US Department of Energy) and envisaged the use of nuclear charges to create a channel. Explosives were given priority over the traditional method of digging, which was deemed too costly. Wellerstein calculated that for every mile (1.6 km) of the trench, four 2 megaton charges would be needed.

The length of the canal through Israel was supposed to be more than 250 km.

“Such a canal will become a valuable alternative to the Suez Canal and is likely to make a great contribution to economic development,” the memorandum said.

The document provided for several route options. One of them connected the Mediterranean Sea to the Gulf of Aqaba through the Negev Desert in Israel. Further, the ships would fall into the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. As noted by the experts of the Livermore Laboratory, the canal would pass through an almost uninhabited desert area. This, in their conclusion, made it possible to build the canal with the help of nuclear explosions.

Google Maps / Insider
The technological capabilities of that time made it possible to implement such a plan.

The main obstacle to the launch of the project lay in the political plane. The drafters of the memorandum expressed concern that “the Arab countries surrounding Israel will categorically object to the construction of such a channel.”

According to Forbes, a similar canal digging method was intended to be used in Central America.

Wellerstein recalled the plans of the United States almost 60 years ago in connection with a new state of emergency in the Suez Canal. On March 23, 2021, a huge container ship Ever Given ran aground and completely blocked traffic. According to initial assessments of the situation, work on unblocking the shipping route should have taken no more than two or three days. However, the problem turned out to be more serious. Most likely, the ship will be removed from the shallows within a few weeks, which will lead to economic difficulties, because the ships will have to go around Africa. At the moment, work is underway around the container ship to deepen the bottom. Special tugs are trying unsuccessfully to pull the stranded vessel from the shallows.

“A modest proposal to rectify the situation with the Suez Canal,” Wellerstein commented on his tweet outlining the main provisions of the memorandum. “If I were Elon Musk , legions of fans would applaud me right now.”

The 160 km long Suez Canal was opened for shipping in 1869.

During the First and Second World Wars, traffic on it was regulated by the British. In 1956, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser announced the nationalization of the canal. In response, the United States, Great Britain and France tried to impose international control of the Suez Canal on Cairo, removing it from Egyptian sovereignty and ensuring that the channel is exploited in the interests of large foreign monopolies. This led to the Suez Crisis, causing the canal to collapse and shut down until the following year.

The Suez Canal was closed again in 1967 after the Six Day War. Subsequently, Soviet specialists took part in mine clearance after the Yom Kippur War in 1973. The canal was reopened for shipping in 1975.

Alternative to Suez: The Northern Sea Route

Finnish designers have developed a container ship for the Northern Sea Route

Suez Canal was blocked for one week by the giant container ship Ever Given. Alternative routes from Europe to Asia are increasingly being discussed. The Northern Sea Route (NSR) is no exception.

On March 22, the day before the incident in the Suez Canal, the Finnish design bureau Aker Arctic , specializing in ice technology, presented a project of an Arctic container ship for the NSR. Detailed information is contained in the corporate publication of a Finnish company. 

Prototypes

The concept design of a container ship with a capacity of 8 thousand TEU for year-round operation on the NSR is based on previous developments by Aker Arctic for the region. A series of reinforced ice-class container ships of the Norilsk Nickel type and LNG carriers of the Arc7 class for the Yamal LNG project.

The container ship for the NSR will differ from other vessels of a similar type with an ice-reinforced hull. As well as icebreaker-type bow lines, and equipment for protecting cargo from the cold.

Two options

According to Luigi Portunato, shipbuilding engineer at Aker Arctic, the vessel can be built in two versions.

The first assumes the use of the “double acting ship” technology. It is due to the hull lines and the propulsion complex higher than the nose. In this case, the hybrid propulsion system consists of one shaft line with a central propeller and two rudder propellers along the sides.

The second , more traditional option, involves the use of two shafting with propellers and two rudders.

The container ship with rudder propellers will be able to operate on the NSR all year round. It would be moving stern ahead in difficult ice conditions. A container ship with propellers in difficult conditions will need the help of an icebreaker.

A special feature of the double-acting container ship will be an additional wheelhouse located in the aft part of the mooring deck. That will be used when moving aft forward. In addition, due to low operating temperatures, the bridge between the engine room and the wheelhouse with living quarters will be located below deck.

Container ship for work on the Northern Sea Route / Illustration: Aker Arctic

Specifications

At the moment, the following technical characteristics of the container ship from Aker Arctic are known:

  • container capacity – 8000 TEU;
  • length – about 300 m;
  • width – 46 m;
  • draft – 13 m;
  • power (option 1) – 56 MW (propeller 1×22 MW, rudder propellers 2×17 MW);
  • power (option 2) – 44 MW (propellers 2×22 MW);
  • icebreaking capacity (option 1) – 2.3 m (at 3 knots, nose forward);
  • icebreaking capacity (option 2) – 1.9 m (at 3 knots, nose forward)

Project economics

When developing the project of the container ship, two options for the use of Arctic container ships on the Northern Sea Route were calculated. From Asian ports to European ports. As well as only in the section between the supposed container hubs in Murmansk and Kamchatka.

As a result, the designers came to the conclusion that the cost of transportation of a conventional container decreases with an increase in the vessel’s capacity for all options. At the same time, it is difficult to pinpoint the point when the options for transportation along the NSR become more profitable than the route through the Suez Canal. This is influenced by many factors, including the cost and type of fuel, the degree of loading of the vessel, etc.

According to Luigi Fortunatto, in the current market conditions, using an Arctic container ship is slightly more expensive than crossing the Suez Canal. The economic efficiency of Arctic container ships could be increased by switching to liquefied natural gas (LNG). At the same time, the shorter route from Asia to Europe along the NSR gives a gain in time. If earlier the speed and adherence to the schedule could only be guaranteed in summer, then with the new container ship we can already talk about the winter-spring period.

It is worth noting that the Aker Arctic publication does not mention the customer for the new vessel. It can be assumed that it is a subsidiary of Rosatom, Rusatom Cargo, which is implementing a project to create the Northern Sea Transit Corridor (SMTK). Earlier it became known about the company plans to start pilot operation of Arctic container ships of the Arc7 class as early as 2024.

Russia promotes Arctic sea route as alternative to blocked Suez Canal

The Arctic – Northern Sea Route could become an effective alternative to the Suez Canal. The canal has been completely shut down since Tuesday, state nuclear energy corporation Rosatom said in a series of half-joking tweets.

The proposal comes days after a 400-meter container ship got stuck in the crucial marine passage for global trade. The incident has sparked fears over rising shipping costs. It also evoked deep concerns about the interruption of supply chains linking Europe and Asia.

In a Twitter thread, Rosatom listed three reasons to view Russia’s strategic Arctic shipping route as a viable alternative. The first one stemmed from tracking data that showed the ship drew a giant phallus in the Red Sea before it got jammed. The state-run corporation cheekily pointed out that the Northern Sea Route offers much more space for drawing naughty pictures with the help of a giant cargo ship.

The company also said that its nuclear icebreaker fleet. The largest in the world, would be easily able to free any ice-bound vessel. The tweet was illustrated with an image showing Rosatom icebreakers rescuing a cargo ship trapped in the ice this winter.

Rosatom’s Arctic fleet, which includes five nuclear-powered icebreakers, a container ship, and four service vessels, is operated by Rosatomflot, based in the Russian port city of Murmansk. The icebreakers are used for navigation and rescue operations along the Northern Sea Route.

In the third tweet, Rosatom posted a waggish gif featuring the lead character from the 1997 American spy comedy ‘Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery’, showing Powers stuck in a shuttle carriage that’s moving back and forth in a narrow tunnel, the image of a bulk carrier stuffed with containers photoshopped on top. 

The Russian authorities have recently turned the development of the Northern Sea Route into one of the key strategic priorities for the state.

In January, Minister of National Resources and Environment Dmitry Kobylkin said cargo shipping in Russia’s northernmost territorial waters would top 80 million tons as early as 2024.

Russia’s Arctic provides the shortest maritime route linking Europe and Asia. The ice waterway passes through several seas of the Arctic Ocean, including the Barents Sea, Kara Sea, Laptev Sea, East Siberian Sea, Chukchi Sea, and partially the Bering Sea in the Pacific Ocean.

Rosatom said in a separate tweet that a “Trip from Murmansk to Japan on the Northern Sea Route is 5770 miles & 12 840 miles through the Suez Canal,” adding that the Egyptian route may be blocked for days.