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Shipping Canal: Volga Don Canal

Posted in Shipping Canal - 3 May 2021, 2:36 PM

Volga Don Canal is located in southwestern Russia, which was opened in 1952. It connects the Black Sea, the Azov Sea, and the Caspian Sea, providing water passage to the major oceanic interlinks. Connecting the Volga River with the Don River at their closest point, the canal stretches 101 km from Kalach-na-Donu, on the east coast of the Tsimlyansk Reservoir to Krasnoarmeysk in the Volga.

It descended 88 meters to the Volga and 44 meters to Don via 13 locks. There are also three reservoirs, namely Bereslavka, Varvarovka, and Karpovka, which stretch for 45 kilometers. There are nine one-chamber locks on this canal which are on the slopes of the Volga, also four locks on the slopes of the Don River. Their function is to lift or lower vessels from river height.

History of Volga Don Canal

The plan for merging this route was initiated by Peter the Great in 1697, organized by Captain Perry—a British engineer. Their first attempts to join a canal between the two tributaries, namely Ilovlya and Kamyshin, from the Don and Volga respectively, stopped in 1701 for lack of resources and others.

The follow-up scheme was approved in 1887; the construction began in 1938, designed by the Hydroproject Institute of Sergey Zhuk. It was completed and opened on June 1, 1952. There are about 900 thousand workers involved to build the Volga Don Canal and its facilities, including up to 100,000 gulag prisoners and 100,000 German POWs. The prisoners were rewarded with that one day working in construction as three days in prison.

The Operation

From the Don area to the Volga, the usual cargo includes coal from Ukraine, grains, minerals, and building materials. Meanwhile, from the Volga to Don area, the cargo carried includes pyrites, wood, and petroleum products transported mainly by ships from the Volgotanker Shipping Company.

Don fills the canal using three powerful pumping stations that work to keep the water level stable. Water from the Volga Don Canal is also channeled and used for irrigation channels.

According to Morskaya Kollegiya—the maritime agency of the Russian government, a total of 10.9 million tonnes of cargo had been transported through the canals in 2004. Meanwhile, other sources state that in 2006 8.05 million tonnes of cargo had been transported through this canal.

A total of 7.20 million tonnes of cargo were moved from east to west, while from the reverse direction only 0.85 million tonnes. More than fifty percent of the total tonnes of cargo were oil or petroleum products, namely 4.14 million tonnes, and most of them were shipped from the Caspian.

Data in 2007 shows that in the half-century since the canal’s operation, 450 thousand ships have passed with a total of 336 million tons of cargo. The volume continues to increase, even reaching 12 million tons per year recently.

The Volga Don Canal now is an important link in the Unified Deep Water Transportation System of the European part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

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