4.4.2 Present State of Shipping
Seasonal effects on shipping volumes
Annual navigation along the NSR involves two main seasons; the traditional (summer) navigational season and the extended season. The latter consists of autumn, winter and spring, after the traditional season is over. In 1995, 60.6% of shipping was conducted during the traditional season and 39.4% in the extended season (autumn, 13.6%; winter, 12.6%; spring, 13.2%). The shipping is chiefly governed by the ice conditions in the Kara Sea. Shipping in the regions east of the Vilkitskiy Strait generally begins in May and ends in November. Shipping from Murmansk to Dikson up on the Yenisey River can be accomplished year-round with the support of an icebreaker, and has long been conducted by ULA- and UL-class ice-breaking ships with icebreaker assistance.
Shipping amid the economic crisis
Although Russia's economic crisis is said to have begun in 1990, in the Far North it began earlier, as public investment in port facilities began to dry up and further exploitation of oil and mineral resources failed to materialize. The tumult from the transition to a market economy caused imports to stagnate. Like industries throughout the former USSR, icebreaker and port management in the NSR fell on hard times. When inflation ravaged Russia in 1992, it dealt a devastating blow to the people, particularly ethnic Russians, living in the NSR region, who had hitherto enjoyed comparatively high salaries. Production volumes in the gas, oil, non-ferrous-metal, chemical-feedstock and timber industries contracted sharply. Prospecting for mineral resources fell to a third of their previous level, and government investment all but stopped. These grim conditions precipitated an exodus of the ethnic Russian population from the region. 2.1% of the population of Murmansk left between 1991 and 1993; in Chukchi, the figure was 10.7%. Clearly, the reasons for the decline in activity in the NSR during this time were the collapse of capital investment in the north and the attendant decline in the region's population. It is not the decline in NSR shipping that caused the economic crisis in the Arctic, but rather the reverse: the decline in shipping was a natural consequence of the chaos occasioned by the economic crisis. Significantly, however, the NSR vessels have maintained shipping capability for chartered cargoes with an acceptable level of reliability. In contrast, rail cargo links were frustrated by poor reliability. Many rivers flow down to the NSR coast, passing through regions of permafrost to fuse regional river and marine shipping with NSR shipping. It is clearly hoped that the NSR will therefore serve as a shipping route for the wealth of natural resources with which northern Russia is blessed.