Risks in Russia

January 30th, 2014 - Transporting outsized loads in the world’s largest country

Companies shipping large loads to Russia face infrastructure and administrative challenges.

At the end of 2011, SDV was charged with shipping vital equipment for a gas liquefaction plant from countries including India and Italy to the Russian town of Kstovo in the Nizhny Novgorod region, some 500 kilometers north east of Moscow.  

The cargo, weighing some 6,500 tons in total, was destined for French industrial gases group Air Liquide’s new Russian plant. It was to travel from the southern Russian port of Rostov-On-Don to Nizhny Novgorod by barge along the Don and Volga rivers.  

The operation hit severe delays, however. The convoy, half the length of a football pitch, arrived at the port too late in September and could not navigate the frozen rivers during the winter months. SDV had to warehouse the equipment, mainly cold boxes and reservoirs, until the ice melted in the spring and the river opened again. 

The months-long delay for Air Liquide’s cargo illustrates the difficulties companies face when sending large loads such as industrial equipment to Russia, the largest country in the world in terms of surface area and spanning nine time zones.  

The size of the country, temperature extremes ranging from the Artic north to the more temperate south, lack of infrastructure and administrative difficulties are just some of the potentially costly hurdles they face. 

“Companies transporting goods in Russia often have problems with accessibility because of the harsh winters and the lack of infrastructure such as roads in remote regions,” explains Thierry Pichot, deputy managing director of SDV’s industrial projects division. Ports such as Archangelsk in Siberia, for example, are only accessible in summer except with the assistance of icebreakers.  

Inland transport in Siberia is also becoming more challenging because global warming is leading to a thawing of the permafrost there, says Myriam Kisfaludi, SDV’s head of central and eastern Europe and a Russian specialist. Until now, trucks have been able to cross the frozen swamps and rivers along so-called winter roads or seasonal trails.

“The Russian authorities have not invested in many roads because trucks have been able to pass during the winter,” warns Kisfaludi. “Now, with global warming, we could experience transport delays of several years.”

The administrative burden for transporting large loads, meanwhile, can be heavy. For example, all documents must be translated into Russian, including the invoice, notes Pichot.

The cargo must also have its own technical passport that includes information such as a description of the equipment and a picture. “You have to follow the administrative requirements to the letter,” he adds. “Any mistakes can cause costly delays.”

SDV surveys the size and the state of the roads and then submits an itinerary to the Russian authorities. That can be a long process since each of the 21 Russian Republics must authorize the outsized cargo to travel on its roads.

For that reason, SDV recommends river and canal transport where possible. The only requirement for using the Russian inland waterways is that a company uses the Russian fleet, says Kisfaludi.

“Many Russian rivers such as the Ob and Lena run south to north making them ideal transport corridors,” says Kisfaludi. “But you must make sure the operation takes place in the right season.”

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