In the days of the USSR, the Soviet fleet was the largest in the world and shipbuilding was a major industry throughout Russia and its satellite states. Since then, things have not gone so well and today most of the new vessels operated by Russia-based countries are built in Asian yards. Many of them are sophisticated ships such as the ice-breaking LNG carrier Christophe de Margerie, delivered to Sovcomflot earlier this year.
Russia’s own production, as far as commercial ships are concerned, is generally of a lower order. Aside from the double acting shuttle tankers Mikhail Ulyanov and Kirill Lavrov delivered as long ago as 2010, Russian shipbuilding production comprises mainly river-sea vessels of various types, a handful of product tankers ranging from 13,000–45,000dwt, fishing vessels, tugs and patrol craft. Military ships feature strongly for both the Russian navy and foreign buyers but the details of these are mostly not made public. Another strength and unique ability is the construction of nuclear-powered icebreakers.
Shipbuilding in Russia is conducted at over 50 yards although many of them are small repair facilities and have built only one or two small vessels over the course of the 21st century. The yards are a mix of state-owned and private facilities and are spread throughout Russia, including many located well inland along Russia’s extensive canal and river network.
Considering the number of yards, the output of non-naval vessels is remarkably small. Since 2000, the annual production figure has varied from 14 to 46 vessels and the annual deadweight from around 46,000dwt to 275,000dwt. The annual figures had been quite consistent until 2014 when there was a sharp dip that has extended until this year. In the period from January 2014 through to September 2017 just 60 vessels have been completed.
Some of the downturn appears to have been due to delays of deliveries as the final quarter of 2017 shows no less than 33 vessels for a deadweight of 166,438 due for delivery. The likelihood of all these vessels being completed is remote so many will be carried over to add to the 22 vessels on the orderbook for 2018 delivery. Beyond next year, the combined orderbook for non-naval vessels is just 16 vessels between 2019 to 2022.
By far the majority of ships produced in Russia are built by the state-owned United Shipbuilding Corporation (USC) which is also the main builder of naval vessels. The company has a workforce of over 80,000 and its facilities include about 40 domestic shipyards, design offices and shiprepair yards.
USC is also a major shareholder in Russia’s newest shipbuilding facility, the Zvezda shipyard in Russia’s Far East. Once a military facility, it is intended to be the jewel in the crown of new Russian shipbuilding when completed. Its development was initiated by Rosneft, the partially state-owned oil company, some four years ago to enable modern large tankers to be built in Russia.
The development of the yard has been a little behind schedule but when complete it will allow vessels of almost any size to be built in Russia. Target vessels include tankers up to 350,000dwt and Arctic class LNG carriers up to 250,000dwt to exploit Russia’s Arctic oil and gas reserves. It is also likely that large naval vessels, including aircraft carriers, will be constructed there.
Earlier this year, Zvezda and Hyundai Samho established an engineering and project management joint venture, Zvezda-Hyundai, for technology transfer and ship construction management. In September, the joint venture announced a design and building contract for a series of 114,000dwt LNG-fuelled Aframax tankers to be built at Zvezda for Rosneft and operated by Sovcomflot. Delivery of the first vessel is scheduled for 2020.
Russia is supposedly in the process of modernising its navy, replacing some of the older vessels that date from the soviet era. Some of these replacements may have come from European yards, but after the annexation of Crimea in 2014 and France’s cancellation of naval contracts for Mistral class assault ships, it is certain that Russia will build them domestically. At one time, the consensus among western defence analysts was that aircraft carriers and other large ships would be part of the programme, but recent comments by Russian officials would suggest that smaller vessels such as corvettes and frigates would be prioritised.
Earlier this year, Aleksey Rakhmanov, USC’s president, highlighted the importance of naval vessels saying that the orderbooks of Russia’s naval shipyards are full till the end of 2023, with defence orders accounting for about 80% of incomes of USC. “As far as naval shipbuilding is concerned, our orderbooks are full till 2021-2023. Most of our shipyards were not so busy even in the Soviet years,” he said.
USC’s commercial orders are, as are most of those for yards in the private sector, predominantly for shallow-draughted river-sea vessels of both general cargo and tanker types. River-sea vessels are not unique to Russia but the sheer size of the country, and the fact that major population centres are usually located on rivers or canals, means that this type of vessel is an essential element of inland transport. The vessels usually fall in the 4,000-8,000dwt size although when trading along rivers, the capacity may be limited towards the lower end of the range.
Such ships are currently being built at USC’s Krasnoye Sormovo, Lotos and Nevskiy yards and at the private Okskaya Sudoverf. The latter has particularly targeted the river-sea vessel sector because it believes that it has great potential. The river-sea fleet, in terms of ship numbers, is on par or exceeds the ocean-going fleet and many of the ships operating are well past what would be considered a normal lifespan. Ships of 40 to 50 years old are not uncommon and are candidates for replacement, although funding newbuildings may be a problem. The latest designs of river-sea ships preserve some of the features of older versions but are generally slightly larger and deeper.
Of the 60 vessels delivered from the beginning of 2014 to date, just over half – 33 vessels – were river-sea types. Russia’s total forward orderbook of non-naval vessels stands at 71 ships, and of these, 15 are river-sea ships. The largest vessels on the orderbook are the series of five 114,000dwt tankers at Zvezda.
The latest vessel to be added to the orderbook was contracted in early October when the Onego Shipyard won a contract from Rosmorport in Petrozavodsk to build a Damen designed Trailing Suction Hopper Dredger (TSHD) 2000. Last year Rosmorport took delivery of another Damen TSHD 2000 – Severnaya Dvina.
Damen has had close contact with Rosmorport to identify some additional design requirements to the new vessel. This includes a self-emptying system for bow discharge.
After delivery in 2019, the ship will be used for maintenance operations in the northern region of Russia. The new vessel will be the sixth Damen dredger in Rosmorport’s fleet.
Russian expertise in icebreakers, especially nuclear-powered ships, is well known, but the last of these — 50 Let Pobedy, launched in 2007 — had a sorry saga attached. It was more than 12 years late in completion due to a lack of funds for icebreakers following the end of the soviet era. Despite the delayed construction the ship has proved its worth in operation.
In anticipation of increased traffic on the Northern Sea Route, Russia has decided to increase its fleet of nuclear icebreakers and currently has three under construction along with a conventional icebreaker. It also has a non-nuclear icebreaker, Ilya Muromets, which began sea trials in early October.
Ilya Muromets has been described as the most advanced icebreaker built for the Russian Navy. It was built at the Admiralty Shipyard and will be able to perform the function of a hydrographic survey vessel along with the functions of an icebreaker, a patrol and a tug vessel.
The three nuclear icebreakers, Arktika, Sibir and Ural are all scheduled for 2019 delivery and are being built for Rosatomflot at the Baltic Shipyard in Sant Petersburg. According to Rosatomflot director general, Vyacheslav Ruksha, quoted recently in the Russian press they will be the world’s most powerful icebreakers and will be used primarily for the Arctic LNG-2 project. LNG-2 is Novatek’s second LNG project after Yamal LNG. The launch is planned for 2022 to 2025.
The power for each of the ships comes from RITM-200 reactors which can produce 175MW each and are designed to deliver 60MW at the propellers via twin turbine-generators and three motors. The ships are 173.3m long and have a 34m beam. They will also be able to force ice up to 3m thick.