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Shipping Canal: White Sea Baltic Canal

Posted in Shipping Canal - 12 Apr 2021, 12:50 PM

The White Sea Baltic Canal plays an important role in internal traffic along Russia’s waterways, from the northern part of the White Sea to the southern part of the Baltic Sea. The canal, also known as the White Sea Canal (Belomorkanal), passes through several smaller bodies of water—including the Lake Onega and the Arctic Ocean—then finally emerges into the Baltic Sea.

Officially opened on 2 August 1933, the White Sea Canal stretches for 227 kilometers with traffic that tends to be light because its minimum depth is limited to only 3.5 meters. Thus, it is only traversed by river ships with a load of up to 600 tons. This depth is not suitable for merchant ships with larger specifications and dimensions. During the first 75 years since its operation, an estimated 193 million tonnes of cargo was directed through this shipping canal.

The Construction

The Soviet Union presentedthe White Sea Baltic Canal as an example of a successful first five-year plan project. Its construction lasted twenty months (1931 to 1933), was almost entirely carried out by manual labor, and was completed four months ahead of the planned schedule.

This canal was billed as the Soviet Union’s first significant project to be built with forced labor. Its construction was overseen by the BBK Camp Directorate, which supplied an estimated up to 100 thousand convicts at the cost of massive casualties. Despite the fact that prison labor camps were largely kept hidden, the White Sea Canal was a propaganda display of criminals “reforging” themselves in productive labor.

White Sea Baltic Canal Use

The use of canals reached its peak in 1985 with a record of 7.3 million tonnes of cargo being transported. The numbers remained high until 1990 and began to decline after the dissolution of the Soviet Union (1988–1991). According to official statistics, entering the 21st-century, canal traffic began to increase.

In 2002, the number started to increase as much as 0.3 million tonnes transported. During the 2007 season, about 0.4 million tonnes of cargo was carried along with 2,500 passengers. Meanwhile, in 2011, the White Sea Canal was traversed in delivering heavy equipment for the Sayano-Shushenskaya hydropower from St. Petersburg.

In military use, The Northern Fleet’s first warships sailed from the Baltic along the canal to the White Sea. Before World War II, 17 transfers of military ships occurred. During World War II, several submarines had been transferred via the canal to the White Sea, including the L-22, S-101, S-102, and K-3 submarines. Since then, they regularly used the canal to deliver submarines from the Krasnoye Sormovo and Baltic Shipyard to Sevmash.

The Soviet Union use this canal for oil products shipping. They deliver oil products to consumers from the Volga River refineries to consumers in Murmansk Oblast and abroad. The canal is also used as a Hydropower station. A total production capacity of 240 MW is contained in the White Sea Baltic Canal system, covering five hydroelectric power plants.

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