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Port czar with a grain lifeline

In his warm and comfortable office, Evgeny (Eugene) Prokofiev, executive vice-president of the Murmansk Shipping Company, talks of his success in importing Canadian grain and industrial equipment into the Soviet Union. In a country that has failed to increase its own grain harvests, Mr. Prokofiev's Norilsk-class container ships, only a year in service, carry Canadian wheat to the Soviet consumer on a regular Murmansk-to-Montreal service that began 20 years ago.

Wearing the uniform of a captain of the Soviet merchant navy, Prokofiev is in charge of one of the 21 regional state shipping lines owned by the Soviet Ministry of the Merchant Fleet.

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``I operate a shipping line with 65 merchant ships,'' he says. These include the Norilsk-type container ships as well as 11 icebreakers, including the three atomic-powered ships and five passenger vessels that work in the Arctic area.

``I lived in Montreal for three years,'' he tells to a Canadian reporter, ``so I know Canada well.''

The idea of having resident Soviet ship captains in Montreal came from both his company and its Canadian agent. They had hoped to persuade the Canadian government to extend its winter icebreaking operations on the St. Lawrence Seaway. The Soviet proposal was to try to integrate such extended operations with those of the Soviet Western Arctic, where Prokofiev and his ship captains hope to operate year-round shipping services.

When Prokofiev's ships are not in the North American trade (which used to include US ports), his line must service the bulk cargo trade between Murmansk and the other far-northern seaports of the Soviet Union's Northern Sea Route Administration.

Prokofiev heads a Soviet state shipping company that operates on a profit-and-loss basis. Ships on the Canadian route must also find cargoes in Western Europe and the countries of the ``socialist bloc'' to pay their way. He is less direct in admitting to the necessity of sailing his ships to Fidel Castro's Cuba, where there are no hard-currency earnings from Cuban raw sugar cargoes going to the USSR.

With 20 years' experience at sea and in company management, the dark-haired and buoyant Prokofiev leaves the clear impression he is not only at home competing in world shipping markets, but could just as easily turn a profit managing a Western shipping firm.

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