INFUTURE: Potential Cargo Flows and Routing


Saimaa has been in operation for 164 years. Today, the largest cargo flows to Saimaa come from Russia, which is the largest trading partner. The next largest and important are the Netherlands, Estonia, Germany and Latvia, which all have active traffic and trade in the Saimaa region. From Saimaa cargo is exported even as far as France and the United Kingdom. Saimaa's traffic is not year-round and therefore the freight figures are not comparable with seaports.


Russia's inland waterway network is significant, and its South-Eastern part in particular is important to Finland. 120 million tons of cargo passes through the Russian inland waterway system annually, and there are 131 inland ports in the inland waterway network. For comparison, the total volume of cargo in Finland is about 100 million tons.


Within the framework of the INFUTURE project, Admiral Makarov State Univeristy of Maritime and Inland Shipping has carried out a study on inland waterway traffic and freight flows between Russia and Finland, and based on these analyses performed, the potential has been identified.

Inland Waterway Fleet

The current fleet operating on inland waterways is rather old and there is a need for new vessels. The INFUTURE project has also concentrated on this issue and the new vessel designs for new Saimaa are under developing.


Russia is renovating its river-sea going fleet. The demand for Volgo-DonMax vessels (max length 141.0 m; max width 16.98 m) is still the highest. Marine Engineering Bureau (Russia) designs most of the river-sea going vessels. One of the outstanding modern examples is a newly designed dry-cargo vessel. Total order book on these vessels exceeds 60 vessels (27 have already been delivered, 22 are under construction, and the rest 11 are in buyers option). Most of the delivered vessels are modern river-sea going vessels. Demand for inland (river) vessels is very limited, e.g. there are only two tug barges under construction.


Unfortunately, most of the vessels designed for Russian IWWs are too big to navigate via Saimaa canal even after the extension of Saimaa Canal lock chambers. Therefore, we need to seek solutions and offer vessels, specially designed for Saimaa navigation.


Development of the Inland Waterway System

An important issue is also the investments of the Finnish government about 100 MEUR in the extension of the lock chambers of the Saimaa canal. This will allow larger vessels to pass through the Saimaa canal and with bigger cargo volumes.


In Russia there is also a need to develop the of inland waterway system. Today the guaranteed depth is 3,6 m in the European side of the Russian Federation, but there are two parts where the depth is even lower than that 3,6 m. The Russian government is investing into inland waterway system to remove the bottlenecks and to provide the depth of 3.6 m everywhere. Additionally there is a state policy need to take measures for stimulating shifting cargo from roads and railroads into inland waterways.


The Russian Federation Strategy for inland waterway development is aimed to modernisation and expansion the main waterway infrastructure by 2024:

  • increase of the capacity of domestic seaports by a third

  • increase of the throughput of inland waterways

  • further development of the Northern Sea Route

  • further development of professional education and training

New cargo flows and routes for Saimaa is with high importance for Russia, including action for shifting cargos from roads and railroads into river-sea going vessels. Inland ports development in both countries and their wider connection into trade will foster local development of many aspects, industrial and social etc. Saimaa infrastructural development shall stimulate the replacement of old fleet with new vessels.

The limitations of the navigation period on Saimaa and on the Volgo-Balt is also hindering the smooth waterway operations between Finland and Russia.


Harmonisation of Rules and Procedures

There are differences in the legislation of Finland (EU) and Russia on inland water transport and on customs and border procedures which would require some harmonisation in order to develop the passage efficiency via Saimaa canal. According to the plans of the Russian Federation, the maritime checkpoint will be located exactly in the middle of the canal, and if we do not start a dialogue on the optimisation of customs and border control procedures in advance, there may be problems for shipping with the start of its operation under the existing rules.


Cargo Volumes via Volgo-Balt and White sea-Onega and Saimaa

Cargo to and from Saimaa is almost 1 million tons/year and with domestic transported cargo all together around 2 million tons/year. Where at Volgo-Balt almost 17 million tons of cargo is transported annually. Nowadays the main cargo from Russia to Saimaa is timber: raw wood and wood chips. Fertilisers and chemicals as well as iron scrap, metal/iron pigs and gravel could be potential cargo for this inland route.

The most important regions for wood producers are Karelia, Vologda region and Leningrad region. Neva Hagen shipping company is the Russian company operating with Saimaa cargo for several years.


Pilot Voyage from Saimaa to Cherepovets

In the frames of INFUTURE project we plan to carry a pilot voyage from Saimaa to Cherepovets with the company Meriaura. For Finnish partners the idea behind this is to be able to estimate how it is to navigate with their own fleet in the Russian inland waterways. At the moment we are looking for a suitable vessel, and the VolgoBalt Administration is assisting us in defining the right dimentions of the vessel for the pilot voyage.


UPM is willing to participate in the INFUTURE pilot project as a cargo provider. It would be a really good addition for the company´s cargo transport, if vessels under Finnish flag could enter the Russian inland waterways. Currently, wood is imported using Russian tonnage, and there is a need for more suitable, environment friendly and economically effective tonnage.


Request for Cargo Integrator

Within the framework of the INFUTURE project, a customer survey of Saimaa region stakeholders was conducted. In these discussions the environmental issues came up, and also the role of SMEs in shared cargo transport was underlined. The inland waterways could be also used in some project transports. Reliable cargo integrators with experience in a wide range of cargo and cargo groups in Lake Saimaa region are needed and they could develop new business models to serve for example SME.


Currently, there is no container traffic in Saimaa, and very little in Russian rivers. European ports compete for the efficiency of transport chains and how to ensure logistics and make the whole chain competitive. Saimaa's new dimensions and new vessels would also enable container transport. This possibility should be studied more and there already is a particular interest in special containers.



Safe Navigation

A cost-effective, safe and fast transportation route interests the stakeholders.

XAMK is preparing an analytical simulation model that can be used for simulating navigation in the Saimaa on larger ships in different conditions. At the same time, the utilisation of smart devices in navigation can be simulated. Calculations can be made of how long the journey would take by visualising different situations and repeating them. By analysing the results, new business can be developed.


Within the framework of the project, there has also been discussion on “transshipment hub” to serve the waterway traffic between Finland and Russia. The digital services play a key role here. Possibility to assemble complete cargos, book ships and cargo space, real-time information on fairways and ports, descriptions of transport chains and alternative routes - clear offers on competitiveness of waterways.


New Business Models

New business models and a new attitude towards inland waterway transport are needed. Could there be some kind of incentives to support the companies in shifting their cargo into inland waterways and to develop the whole supply chain environmentally friendly.


Lappeenranta, the port of Mustola, is the largest port in the Saimaa region, and has over the years served as a transit port. In addition to the Mustola logistics center, Lappeenranta has a passenger port and a marina, as well as an airport. Mustola has 7 piers and the location is ideal; 10 km from the center and 15 km from the border. Mustola is also significant as a storage area. The Saimaa canal is next door and also has good rail and road connections.

How to further develop Lappeenranta's Mustola multimodal logistics center and specifically to support better utilisation of water transport? How to get industry and trade involved? How to manage the development of the entire transport chain and new service concepts, as well as marketing cooperation and information systems. Would “Port of Saimaa” be the answer to this?


The idea of “Port of Saimaa” is to form a network of active cargo ports in the Saimaa region; Lappeenranta, Joensuu, Kuopio, Savonlinna, Imatra and Varkaus. The “Port of Saimaa” would be presented to the clients and in the market as one big cargo port.



When there is a commercial interest, it is possible to solve most of the organisational and legal problems, including attracting new cargo and issues on shifting cargo from road and rails into waterways.


Continues dialogue and collaborative meetings as such round tables are needed between the stakeholders and administrative authorities.


We thank the Round Table Speakers:

  • Pekka Koskinen, Partner, Brave Logistics Oy

  • Tatiana A. Pantina, Admiral Makarov State University of Maritime and Inland Shipping

  • Anatoly Burkov, Admiral Makarov State University for Maritime and Inland Shipping

  • Esa Korhonen, UPM Metsä

  • Toomas Lybeck, South-Eastern Finland University of Applied Sciences

  • Hannu Lappalainen, Lappeenrannan Satama

  • Maksim A. Nevezhin, Head of FGU Saimaa Canal

  • Andrei L. Yushchenko, Marine Freight Bureau

  • Anton A. Svechkarev, Neva-Hagen

  • Dmitry S. Neslukhov, Neva-Hagen







Summary of the INFUTURE Round Tables WP1.

The Russian partners had their RT discussion 22.10.2020 and the Finnish partners 26.10.2020


Summary of the Round Tables by Heli Koukkula-Teixeira, Executive Director of the Association of Finnish Waterways.

Photos: AFW photo bank (Members & Partners)

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