The Shipping Crisis in the Soviet Eastern Arctic at the Close of the 1983 Navigation Season


  • William Barr
  • Edward A. Wilson



Harbours, Ice navigation, Icebreakers, Marine transportation, Russian Arctic waters


During September 1983 an unusually early freeze-up and persistent northwesterly winds that drove heavy multi-year ice into Proliv Longa and against the north coast of Chukotka resulted in a critical situation with regard to shipping in the Soviet eastern Arctic. Ports such as Zelenyy Mys and Mys Shmidta were prematurely closed by ice, leaving Pevek as the only functioning port in this part of the Arctic. Worse still, dozens of ships were beset in the ice at various points from the mouth of the Indigirka east to Bering Strait. One freighter, Nina Sagaydak, was crushed and sank near Kosa Dvukh Pilotov on 8 October; a sister ship, Kolya Myagotin, was badly holed and barely managed to limp out of the Arctic. Practically all available ice breakers, including the nuclear-powered icebreakers Lenin, Leonid Brezhnev and Siber', were transferred from the western to the eastern Arctic to free the jammed ships. Ultimately all were rescued, but it was late November before the last ship sailed from Pevek. Many ships were forced to head west from Pevek to the Atlantic, rather than attempt to battle their way through the heavy ice in Proliv Longa in order to return to their Pacific home ports. Singled out for particular praise in Soviet post-mortems of the crisis were the nuclear-powered icebreakers and the new Noril'sk class (SA-15) icebreaking freighters, several of which came straight from the Finnish shipyards to help rectify the situation in the eastern Arctic.

Key words: Soviet eastern Arctic, Soviet Union, navigation, icebreaker