Keen to operationalise and develop the Chennai-Vladivostok route as a part of Eastern Maritime Corridor and the North Sea Route for granting better cost-effective access to export-import trade, India and Russia have sped-up talks as they carry out route feasibility studies, and push for infrastructure requirement, including mariner training.

As part of such discussions between the two countries, a second business delegation from Russia will be in Chennai to take forward the issue, Union Minister of Ports, Shipping and Waterways, Sarbananda Sonowal, told businessline.

Earlier in September, the Union Minister had visited Russia’s Vladivostok for the Eastern Economic Forum.

Incidentally, Indian officials and trade teams had visited the ports of Vladivostok, Vostochny, Nakhodka and Kozmino in May.

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Talks have gathered pace over the last few months.

Shipping liners have reportedly expressed some interest in the 10,300 km (5600 nautical miles) route too and trade level discussions are on as an alternative to the existing trade corridor along western coasts, said sources in the Ministry. 

Training for Arctic waters 

According to Sonowal, Russia has agreed to train Indian mariners on “navigating Arctic waters” which are generally  sea ice-locked during the winters.

This incidentally is a part of the proposal, where the two sides are discussing possibilities of going ahead with a trans-Atlantic shipping line in the future in the North Sea route which covers four seas, namely Barents, Kara, Laptev and East Siberian Sea). This is the shortest route via Europe.

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The navigability of Arctic Sea route depends primarily on the expanse of the floe, since it prevents naval traffic for a part of the year. The fluctuation of the area covered by sea ice limits the time window during which ships can pass through.

As a result, the Arctic’s icebound nature necessitates icebreaking assistance for safe navigation along the North Sea route. Russia reportedly has the world’s only nuclear-powered icebreaker fleet, ensuring year-round operation. Rosatom, the North Sea route infrastructure operator, oversees this fleet.

Chennai Workshop

“An Indo-Russia workshop has been planned to be organised from October 30 to November 1 in Chennai to assess the possibility for operationalising of the Eastern Maritime Corridor. Talks have gathered pace and both Delhi and Moscow want to work out the Vladivostok-Chennai route as a viable alternative,” Sonowal said.

The corridor allows India to have a presence in the South China Sea through a trade route, which is primarily aimed at the speedy transportation of coking coal.

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The Vladivostok-Chennai maritime links were snapped after the breakup of the Soviet Union.

An agreement was signed between the two countries for the trade route in 2019. In due course, more commodities like oil, liquefied natural gas (LNG), and fertilisers will be added to the list of commodities transported via the Eastern Maritime Corridor. 

The corridor is estimated to bring down transportation time between Indian and Russian ports of the Far-East Region by over 50 per cent  ( 14 - 16 days from the current 40); as compared to the currently used Suez and Panama Canal routes. 

India is looking to use the corridor to export items such as automobiles to tap into far east markets. 

“The outcome of three-day work shop (in Chennai) will ascertain our future steps and how we take forward ways to operationalise the route. What sort of cargo movement, the requirement from various ports, etc will be among the topics scheduled for discussion,” he said.