New safety regulations for Russian tanker fleet

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MOSCOW (RIA Novosti economic commentator Vasily Zubkov).

 - "The Russian fleet remains unaffected by the ban on single-hull tankers," Alexei Klyavin, deputy director of the Russian Transport Ministry's state-policy department in the field of railroad, sea and river transport, said.

"The Russian Transport Ministry praises the International Maritime Organization's measures to more closely control the tanker fleet and to enhance environmental safety during oil and petroleum traffic. Russian ship-owners are moving to renew their tanker fleet," Klyavin noted.

Amendments to the International Convention on the Prevention of Pollution From Ships entered into force April 5, 2005. Such amendments aim to phase out single-hull tankers. Ships aged 28 years and more were previously scrapped.

The new requirements do not concern Russia alone. More than 700 tankers displacing 74 million tons will be scrapped by 2010 worldwide. The newest ships will be aged 14 years.

According to Klyavin, these new international requirements did not affect the performance of Russian tankers in the last two months. In his words, Russian ship-owners have one of the world's most modern tanker fleets.

The five Russian shipping companies operating on the global oil and petroleum market had only four large single-hull tankers last year. All of them were phased out even before the enactment of new international regulations.

As of January 1, 2004, the Russian ocean-going tanker fleet had 139 ships (6,391.1 thousand tons deadweight). Forty tankers fly the Russian flag, with another 99 ships sailing under foreign flags. Their tonnage is 1,016.5 thousand tons and 5,374.6 thousand tons, respectively.

Russia has the world's twelfth largest fleet, whereas the Soviet fleet had the fourth and fifth largest tonnage in the mid-1980s.

Russia which has boosted oil exports in the last few years requires additional tankers. The Transport Ministry estimates that 100 million tons of crude oil are annually transported via the Black Sea. Oil-export volumes will total 120-130 million tons in the years to come. About 60-80 million tons of petroleum will be exported by that time.

The Baltic Pipeline System (BPS) will be completed this year, annually pumping 60 million tons of oil. Baltic ports will therefore handle about 80 million tons of crude oil. Primorsk, the main BPS terminal, will only handle double-hulled tankers. Foreign analysts admit that Primorsk is the most advanced and environmentally safe regional oil terminal.

Arctic oil traffic is another story. Hydrocarbon deposits will soon be developed on the Russian Arctic shelf. Russia now produces 95 % of its natural gas and 75 % of its crude oil in polar and Siberian areas. Ocean-going tankers will ensure uninterrupted hydrocarbon exports.

Arctic navigation is dangerous. This is why additional safety measures must be implemented. Many Russian companies operating Arctic fleets train ship crews accordingly. They also build reinforced tankers for Arctic navigation. Rosneft, for one, has ordered six double-hulled Arctic tankers. Such tankers make up for 40 % of Sovkomflot orders.

Russia plans to build 73 tankers (4,012.0 thousand tons deadweight) between 2002 and 2010. This ship-building program will receive investment to the tune of $2,683 billion. Croatia has built the Primorye double-hulled tanker (105,000 tons deadweight) for Russia's Primorye shipping company. This tanker will carry Sakhalin Energy oil. The Novoship fleet has received two Aframax tankers. Sovkomflot has received two Suezmax tankers. Four other new tankers are sailing the Barents Sea.

"Double-hulled tankers that reduce oil-spill risks can run aground. Accidents and collisions are also possible, Klyavin said. Navigation safety mostly depends on the human factor (80-90 %), i.e. crew experience, as well as up-to-date communications networks and radars. Russia attaches priority to this aspect.

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