FEATURE | Russia’s shipbuilding industry: steady growth over three decades

The nuclear-powered icebreaker Arktika began operational sailings in the Northern Sea Route in November 2020. (Photo: United Shipbuilding Corporation)
The nuclear-powered icebreaker Arktika began operational sailings in the Northern Sea Route in November 2020. (Photo: United Shipbuilding Corporation)

During the heyday of the former Soviet Union, shipyards were scattered all over the various socialist republics. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia lost access to many shipbuilding and ship repair enterprises, and later in the 90s the country lost many competencies in the field of shipbuilding. At present, though, we can say that Russian shipbuilding is entering a revival. Thanks to government support measures, the construction of ships of various classes and uses is in full swing, with high hopes set on the Primorsky Territory-based Zvezda Shipbuilding Complex.

There remain significant challenges, however. Among these are the need to increase local content in the manufacture of marine component equipment, personnel training, and modernisation of local shipyards.

Fleet construction: current situation and prospects

In recent years, the Russian authorities have been taking measures aimed at upgrading the country's commercial fleet and developing the local shipbuilding sector. The results of this economic policy are already evident: local shipyards are being provided with newbuilding orders, which, albeit with some delay, are being completed.

There are 232 vessels currently being built to the Russian Maritime Register of Shipping (RS) class, both in Russia and abroad, with options for an additional 122 ships. Overall, in 2020, Russian shipyards have delivered 116 newbuilds, with 74 being designed for inland shipping including 42 vessels built to RS class. Another 260 vessels are now under construction (192 inland vessels and 68 sea-going ships).

Despite the completion in 2020 of a number of large newbuilding projects that provided the bulk of the shipyards' operating revenue, most of the fulfilled projects had low contract values. The construction of such vessels as barges (11 units), pontoon piers (10 units), pontoons, and floating bridges (five units) does not significantly contribution to civil shipbuilding revenues, it nonetheless eventually help support the economic and social development of entire regions within the Russian Federation.

Export deliveries by the Russian shipbuilding sector as of year-end 2020 totaled US$734.2 million, or an increase of 40.7 per cent compared to 2019. This is remarkable considering the increase in deliveries occurred despite the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. Russian-built ships and floating assets exported in 2020 were primarily to markets in the EU, which account for 53.5 per cent (US$392 million in export volumes with US$188 million comprising deliveries to customers in Norway and US$91 million to Germany). In addition, a large volume was exported to the Republic of Korea (US$126 million). The Vice-President of the Russian Export Centre (part of VEB.RF Group) said that the total volume of ship and watercraft exports supported by the REC in 2020 reached US$2.6 million.

The completion of Arktika, the world's largest and most powerful nuclear-powered icebreaker, and Viktor Chernomyrdin, the world's most powerful diesel-electric icebreaker, were among the most outstanding achievements of Russian shipbuilding in 2020. For the first time in thirty years, a Russian shipyard has delivered a large capacity trawler, the 86-metre Barentsevo More, and the first ECO series tanker, the 280-tonne Georgy Moskalev, which is designed for operation in the country's inland waterways. Also, Zvezda Shipbuilding Complex made its debut in the Far East shipping trade with the delivery of the country's first Aframax tanker, Vladimir Monomakh, thus demonstrating that Russian shipbuilding enterprises are capable of handling large-tonnage commercial projects that involve assembly of large pre-fabricated sections. Last year, Mustai Karim, the first cruise ship built in Russia during the modern era, set out on her maiden voyage.

Mustai Karim<em>, the first Project PV300 river cruise ship built in Russia (Photo: Irina Panfilova)</em>
Mustai Karim, the first Project PV300 river cruise ship built in Russia (Photo: Irina Panfilova)

Russian shipyards are continuing to build nuclear-powered icebreakers that are unrivaled throughout the world and are among the most highly sophisticated vessels with locally manufactured components. For example, the new Russian-made nuclear reactor RITM-200 was installed on the icebreaker Arktika. In general, the level of domestically manufactured marine components applied in icebreakers of the LK-60 series reaches nearly 92 per cent. There are presently four more LK-60 icebreakers under construction. In the future it is planned to expand the series by two additional ships. Also, the icebreaking fleet in general will also be expanded through the introduction of four medium-powered vessels that will operate on LNG.

However, the most ambitious and significant project is the construction of an even more powerful nuclear icebreaker, named Rossiya. The icebreaker will feature an unprecedented 120 MW of installed power and will be able to sail through ice of virtually any thickness on Arctic shipping routes, including the high-latitude ones. Without a doubt, the icebreaker will become a symbol of pride of the Russian shipbuilding industry. The vessel will be designed to ensure smooth year-round navigation of the country's commercial fleet along the Northern Sea Route. The project will become the basis for a new generation of Russian icebreakers.

In June 2020, Zvezda held a steel-cutting ceremony for this icebreaker. Currently, the shipyard is manufacturing the huge hull sections that will comprise this future vessel, which is scheduled to be completed in 2027.

A large segment of the Russian shipbuilding industry is involved in the construction of fishing vessels. Thanks to the first stage of the state programme of providing investment quotas for catching biological resources in exchange for the construction of a new fleet at Russian shipyards, newbuilding contracts were signed for the construction of 55 fishing and 41 crab catching vessels. The government is currently considering the possibility of implementing the second phase of providing investment quotas per keel, which will be aimed at continuing the renewal of the fleet of the Far Eastern Basin.

<em>United Shipbuilding Corporation's Admiralty Shipyard is currently building ten factory trawlers for Russian Fishery Company. (Photo: United Shipbuilding Corporation)</em>
United Shipbuilding Corporation's Admiralty Shipyard is currently building ten factory trawlers for Russian Fishery Company. (Photo: United Shipbuilding Corporation)

At least 30 fishing vessels will be built within the second phase framework, and this number will include 15 large-tonnage vessels as well as commercial transport vessels. This will help modernise the Far East Basin's fishing fleet by 65 to 70 per cent. Although the vessels of the Russian fishing fleet are built to designs developed by foreign naval architecture and marine engineering firms, these projects have to be redesigned to comply to specific RS class requirements. At the same time, work is ongoing to improve safety measures on the entire fishing fleet.

Rosmorrechflot continues to commission the construction of complex multi-functional salvage and search and rescue (SAR) vessels. In 2020, Nevsky Shipyard handed over the 80-metre Beysug, a shallow-draught multi-purpose salvage vessel with a total installed power of 5.2 MW and Arc 5 class notation. The Project MPSV12 vessel was designed by Marine Engineering Bureau (MEB).

The country's shipping sector also has to deal with the renewal of the inland shipping fleet as well as the fleet of mixed river-sea vessels. In this segment, shipowners are also provided with various measures of state support. Dry cargo vessels (17 units delivered), barges, and specialised support vessels remain the drivers of the Russian shipbuilding industry in terms of the number of ships delivered in 2020. In particular, in 2020, Krasnoye Sormovo Shipyard, through contacts with State Transport Leasing Company (STLC), handed over ten dry cargo vessels under the MEB-designed Project RSD59 to various customers. By the beginning of 2021, the shipyard had built and delivered 22 dry cargo vessels under the same series. Krasnoye Sormovo is the leader among domestic shipbuilders in terms of the number of completed Project RSD59 vessels.

In addition, Okskaya Shipyard completed and delivered seven Project RSD59 vessels in 2020. Another 15 sister ships are still under construction.

Nevsky Shipyard (part of United Shipbuilding Corporation) is meanwhile completing the construction of its third Project RSD59 ship, Pola Gali. The shipyard's current orderbook includes five Project RSD59 vessels. Two have already been delivered and are now sailing operationally.

The last year was also a noteworthy one for passenger vessel newbuildings. Vodohod, a local river cruise company, took delivery of the Project PV300 vessel Mustai Karim, proving that such vessels can also be built in Russia. The four-deck ship can accommodate up to 300 passengers and can be compared to a floating five-star hotel. In August 2020, the ship set out on her maiden voyage.

Another story of Russian shipbuilding success is the completion of the Project PV22 Ice Arc 4 class Ro-Pax ferry Admiral Nevelskoy at Nevsky Shipyard. The ship will sail on the ferry route between Sakhalin and the Kuriles. Admiral Nevelskoy was laid down in March 2019 and was completed on budget and on time. The keel for the second Project PV22, Pavel Leonov, was laid in April that same year.

Russia has also been developing high-speed hydrofoil passenger vessels in the years since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Currently, there are two marine engineering firms developing river and marine vessels in this segment: Alexeev's Hydrofoil Design Bureau and Zelenodolsk-headquartered Sea Tech. The serial hydrofoil class vessels are being built at shipyards in Chkalovsk (Valdai-45R, Meteor-120R) and Rybinsk (Vympel, Kometa-120M). The Zelenodolsk firm plans to develop a new series of hydrofoil vessels under the Project Meteor-2020 class while the manufacturing of Olympia-class hydrofoils will be transferred to Khabarovsk Shipyard (KSZ). Overall, eleven Project Valdai-45R vessels have been built to date.

A launching ceremony for the first in a series of four Project Meteor-120R ships was held on August 3, 2021. The vessels were ordered by leasing company Mashpromlizing. United Shipbuilding Corporation (USC) decided to invest RUB6.4 billion (US$89 million) earned at the end of 2020 for the preferential leasing of passenger ships. The list of projects also includes hydrofoil vessels, namely, a pair of Valdai-45R vessels ordered for Yakutia and four vessels of the Meteor-120R design.

Currently, the portfolio of orders of STLC includes six high-speed ships: two Kometa vessels and four Valdai vessels. Subject to state support, STLC is ready to invest more than RUB300 billion (US$4.17 billion) in the construction of more than 300 civil vessels for various purposes. The list includes more than 180 passenger ships, including high-speed vessels.

In addition, Russia has launched the construction of small rigid inflatable boats (RIBs) as SAR support craft and fast crewboats. The Russian market has also witnessed the revival of personal recreational yachts and houseboats. The segment after 2008 has narrowed to almost zero.

Severnny Polyus<em>, a Project 00903 ice-resistant, self-propelled platform, being launched into the water at Admiralty Shipyard's Saint Petersburg facilities in December 2020 (Photo: United Shipbuilding Corporation)</em>
Severnny Polyus, a Project 00903 ice-resistant, self-propelled platform, being launched into the water at Admiralty Shipyard's Saint Petersburg facilities in December 2020 (Photo: United Shipbuilding Corporation)

Ships of the specialised technical fleet are in great demand and it is project that between 2025 and 2030, Russia will need more than 800 such vessels. These will include 62 dredgers with a capacities of 250 to 700 cbm/hour, 150 hopper barges and AHTS vessels, 164 buoy tenders, 102 deck cargo barges, 81 pushers tugs, 55 floating cranes, 53 survey boats, 34 waste collection ships, 33 bunker barges, 30 quardships, 28 crewboats, 12 floating docks, eight dive support boats, and five bulk oil barges. Rosmorrechflot confirmed that the average age of vessels of the technical fleet nears 38.6 years: vessels under 30 years old make up 19 per cent of the total number while those up to 40 years make up 36.8 per cent, those up to 50 years old comprise 28.8 per cent, and those exceeding 50 years are at 15 per cent of the total.

When speaking about the construction of specialised ships, the construction of four dredgers at Astrakhan region-based Lotos Shipyard is worth mentioning. Rosmorrechflot planned to extend this series of dredgers to 20 vessels to gradually renew the aging fleet operating in its various basin administrations.

Despite the challenges posed by 2020, the year has really become outstanding in terms of the commissioning of unique vessels in Russia.

Construction and modernisation of shipyards

The industry has pinned great hopes on Zvezda Shipbuilding Complex. The state-of-the-art shipyard is capable of building large-tonnage vessels that could not have been built in Russia earlier due to lack of required capacity. Last year, Zvezda delivered Vladimir Monomakh, the first Russian-built Aframax oil tanker, to local owner Rosnefteflot. In January 2021, the 250-metre, 114,000DWT ice class 1A tanker embarked on its maiden voyage. To date, the shipbuilder's backlog of newbuilding orders includes 12 Aframax tankers, 10 of which were ordered by Rosnefteflot.

<em>The Project RST54 combination carriers are capable of transporting both dry and liquid bulk cargo. (Photo: Pavel Emelyanov)</em>
The Project RST54 combination carriers are capable of transporting both dry and liquid bulk cargo. (Photo: Pavel Emelyanov)

Zvezda's current orderbook includes over 50 vessels. These include ships with a displacement of up to 350,000 tonnes, offshore drilling rigs, nuclear-powered icebreakers, ice-class vessels, large-tonnage vessels including LNG and LPG carriers, specialised vessels, and other types of vessels that were not previously manufactured in Russia due to a lack of launching and hydraulics facilities.

Neighbouring shipyards have been trying to keep up with Zvezda. In January 2020, Amursky Shipyard, one of the largest shipbuilding enterprises in the Far East region, handed over a new semi-submersible drilling rig to Gazprom, the Project 22420 vessel Ostap Sheremeta. The vessel was laid down on February 16, 2011 and rolled out of the assembly hall on June 11, 2014.

The shipyard's near-term plans include the signing of contracts for the construction of 10 tankers for Vostok Oil in October 2021. These ships will be Arctic shuttle tankers and will each have Arc7 ice class notation and a deadweight of 120,000 tonnes. In general, the specific feature of Russian marine shipbuilding is that almost all ships are built to ice class.

In Russia, there are currently several investment projects focused on the construction of new shipbuilding facilities as well as retrofitting and upgrading of existing ones. The expansion of the facilities at Zvezda Shipbuilding Complex continues, as do the modernisation of Severnaya Verf Shipyard, the creation of a state-of-the-art shipbuilding and ship repair facility in the village of Zhatay in Yakutia, the establishment f a modern "smart shipyard" at Onego Shipyard, and the rehabilitation of Zvezda's existing Far East plant. Within its Strategy for the Development of the Shipbuilding Industry-2035, the Russian government has implemented several measures of state support for the transition to domestic software. This will allow the creation of conditions for the introduction of domestically developed CAD technology into the shipbuilding industry at a level of at least 75 per cent, engineering calculation systems at not less than 50 per cent, and product data management systems by 2024.

Lastly, it is worth noting that the shipyards specialising in the repair of sea-going and mixed class vessels are now in a difficult situation in Russia, though they are able to maintain their financial and economic stability mainly through maintenance and drydocking of state-owned ships such as those operated by the Ministry of Defence. Operators of commercial sea-going and mixed class fleets prefer placing repair orders with foreign dockyards due to lower costs and, more importantly, faster turnarounds. The Russian ship repair sector still has to overcome some rather tall hurdles finances-wise as a result of existing customs and tax regulations.

Article contributed by IAA PortNews especially for BairdMaritime.com

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