The historic experimental voyage was summarized in the foregoing section. The unusually favorable ice conditions in the NSR persuaded the international members to sail north in search of ice appropriate for performing the tests in the plan. This turn of events resulted in the recording of an unexpectedly short journey, in the first unescorted voyage north of Severnaya Zemlya in 63 years. Under these conditions, it might be said that even an ordinary (non-ice-breaking) vessel could easily have traveled the normal NSR coastal route (although in practice this is contrary to regulations; see Section 4.3.3). Of course, a single journey alone is not sufficient to determine the feasibility of opening the NSR to commercial shipping, but it did prove that summer navigation can be much easier than people have imagined, and provided quantitative grounds for assessment of the navigation performance of Russian ships under full cargo in Acrtic waters. These results are sure to contribute to the development of the shipbuilding and marine shipping industries, not only in Japan but around the world. Moreover, the voyage clarified the utility of ice information in Arctic navigation and highlighted some of the problems involved in communications in the NSR.
A Russian vessel was chartered for the purpose of this voyage. The captain of the vessel was a seasoned mariner, experienced in seafaring in the NSR as well as overseas, and his fluent English kept communication problems to a minimum. Some concern arose with respect to the young sailors and engineers, who had no experience in Arctic waters and little grasp of English. Similarly, if an icebreaker escort were needed it is likely that the captain would speak little or no English, since their job is viewed as a matter of domestic shipping. Although foreign ships are to be assigned ice pilots who are reasonably fluent in English (see Section 4.3.4), Russia has its own methods and approaches in training sailors, so the possibility of miscommunication between the foreign cargo ship and the icebreaker raises some cause for concern. The general consensus among the mission team is that further similar experimental voyages in different seasons, especially with non-Russian vessels and crew, are vital for the substantial opening of NSR as an international sea lane. At this point, the Russian authorities are working hard to supply crews with sufficient proficiency in English, and are doing their best to remove any obstacles.
In general, Russia's technology for navigating Arctic waters is impressive, and the level of its support framework is exceptionally high. Nonetheless Russia's protracted economic turmoil has engendered a serious decline in NSR shipping and has exacerbated the obsolescence of its facilities. The poor state of maintenance of those facilities is a cause for grave concern.
There already exist several examples of NSR navigation by the vessels of countries other than Russia. None of these, however, were conducted with the stated intent of opening the NSR to international commercial shipping. These countries already benefit from close diplomatic relations between Russia and other European countries and completed their voyages without any reference to East Asia. This voyage will have a significant impact on Asian countries, both far east and central, and on Europe as well.
This chapter was written with reference to the following report:
"Experimental Voyage through Northern Sea Route", Report of the Project for the Research on the Northern Sea Route, Ship & Ocean Foundation, 1996.