More than two dozen cargo vessels are stuck in Russia’s Arctic ice, waiting for ice-breakers to come to their rescue, after an inaccurate forecast from the country’s Met Office.
Maritime traffic in the Northern Sea Route has been on the rise in recent years as rapidly warming winters reduce ice cover, and Russia invests in its Arctic ports in preparation for a further boom.
But this year several segments of the Northern Sea Route froze up about a fortnight earlier than usual, catching many ships unawares.
Alexei Likhachyov – director general of Russia’s state-owned nuclear energy company Rosatom, which manages the country’s nuclear-power fleet of ice-breakers – said on Monday that the ships included vessels sailing under the flags of Hong Kong and Marshall Islands.
He blamed the Russian Met office for a forecast that failed to predict the early ice, in comments to local media.
Companies shipping goods via the Northern Sea Route typically book a Rosatom ice-breaker in advance to accompany their vessel, but did not this time as they were assured of good weather.
Some of the vessels sailing from Murmansk in Russia’s north-west to Chukotka in the north-east have been stranded for more than a week, endangering the deliveries of essential goods to remote towns on Russia’s Arctic coast.
Viktor Gil, captain of The Mikhail Somov, one of the ships stranded along the Northern Sea Route, told the Tass news agency that the situation was “quite dire”.
“The ice is up to one and a half metres thick here,” he said, but added that the crew had supplies enough to last until an ice-breaker reaches them in around a week.
Mr Likhachyov said ice-breakers were already on their way to the stranded vessels, but warned that the rescue operation could take some time as the ships are scattered across the sea.