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Published on December 19, 2020

Tim Deere-Jones

Independent Marine Radioactivity Research & Consultancy at Tim Deere-Jones

The disabled Russian nuclear powered freighter SEVMORPUT (built in 1988) is expected to pass through UK waters between the 19th and 23rd of December, en route for Leningrad after aborting a proposed trip to re-supply the Russian base in the Antarctic.

 The SEVMORPUT is expected to transit the English Channel, pass through the Dover Strait and proceed up the North Sea and into the Baltic (this is the reverse track of her outward voyage). Her ETA for Leningrad is expected to be around the 28th Dec. This voyage will pass through , or near, the EEZ’s and Territorial Seas of 14 European Coastal States which are expected to express concern about the passage of this ageing and disabled nuclear powered ship. The SEVMORPUT’s voyage to the Antarctic was cut short off the coast of West Africa when campaigners observing her passage via satellite feeds reported that she must be experiencing difficulties because that she had spent several weeks going round and round in circles off the coast of Angola. Later reports implied that her captain and the Russian authorities had asked for Safe Haven in Angola, South Africa and Namibia, but had been refused entry.

Almost no information about the cause of the problem has been released to the media by Russian authorities, but latest reporting implies that there have been issues either with the propeller or with the prop shaft. Since it’s launch in 1988, the SEVMORPUT has been relatively inactive, largely due to the refusal of many Coastal States, and even Russian ports, to accept a visit from a nuclear powered vessel, in the context of fears about reactor accidents and uncertain insurance regimes covering maritime nuclear reactors.

In the late 1990s, SEVMORPUT was laid up in Murmansk due to delays in the refuelling of her reactor. The re-fuelling finally took place in 2001 and later the ship resumed low level service on the Arctic routes.

In August 2007, it was reported that SEVMORPUT would be converted into the world’s first nuclear-powered drilling ship in the Arctic oil fields, due to lack of demand for cargo operators for lighters and the need of specialized drilling vessels in the Russian Arctic. However, that conversion never took place. In October 2009, the general director of Atomflot announced that SEVMORPUT could remain in service for 15 years. In late October 2012, it was reported that SEVMORPUT, which had been lying idle at the Atomflot base outside Murmansk since 2007, had been removed from the Russian Ship Register in July and would be sold for scrapped.

 However, in December 2013 it was reported that the decision to decommission the nuclear-powered ship had been cancelled and that the vessel would be brought back to service by February 2016. After a nine year lay-up SEVMORPUT returned to service in 2016, and has been chartered mainly by the Russian MoD for transporting cargo related to the development of military infrastructure in the Arctic. In addition, she has occasionally transported supplies for oil and gas projects.  The re-deployment of the SEVMORPUT appears to be part of the ongoing “nuclearisation” of Russia’s Arctic shipping and follows recent statements that Russia is considering “alternative fuels” for its polar fleets, having already built and operated 10 nuclear powered icebreakers (2 more in design and build stage) and 1 floating marine nuclear reactor power station (9 more in design and build stage) to power offshore Arctic Ocean oil drilling.

Tim Deere-Jones

Independent Marine Radioactivity Research & Consultancy at Tim Deere-Jones


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