Foreign flagged tankers chart course for Russia’s new Arctic LNG plant in conflict with Kremlin policy

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Russian President Vladimir Putin (C), accompanied by Novatek chief Leonid Mikhelson (6th L), takes part in a ceremony starting the loading of the first gas shipment onto the icebreaking tanker “Christophe de Margerie” from the Yamal LNG plant in the port of Sabetta. (Alexey Druzhinin/Sputnik/AFP/Getty Images)
There was great festivity in Sabetta as President Putin on Friday arrived on site to officially mark the first out-shipment of liquified natural gas from Novatek’s new major Arctic project.

Along the ice-covered port area was lying the «Christophe de Margerie», the flagship in the fleet of new icebreaking carriers built to transport the liquified natural gas out through the Gulf of Ob and to the markets.

However, little attention was paid to the second vessel in port.

Fleet of Yamal carriers
The Yamal LNG plant in the port of Sabetta on the Kara Sea shore line on the Yamal Peninsula in the Arctic circle, some 2500 km of Moscow. (Maxim Zmeyev/AFP/Getty Images)

The «Boris Vilkitsky» was loading LNG at the same time as the «Christophe de Margerie», and they reportedly this weekend both set out from the Sabetta terminal.

The two carriers are of the same class, the new so-called Yamalmax, and built by the same South Korean shipyard. However, while the «Christophe de Margerie» is owned and run by Russian national shipping company Sovcomflot, the «Boris Vilkitsky» is owned by a joint venture of Greek company Dynagas and Chinese Sinotrans and China LNG Shipping, LngWorldNews informs.

Russia’s “Christophe de Margerie” Arctic LNG tanker in the port of Sabetta on the Yamal Peninsula in the Arctic circle. (Maxim Zmeyev/AFP/Getty Images)

The «Boris Vilkitsky» reportedly in early November set course out from the Daewoo Shipbuilding Marine Engineering yard towards Russian Arctic waters. On November 13th it entered the waters of the Northern Sea Route and on the 27th arrived in Murmansk, PortNews reports. It subsequently headed towards Sabetta.

There, it found its place next to the «Christophe de Margerie», which had been on site for more than a month.

Other ships on their way to Sabetta

In addition to the «Boris Vilkitsky», a number of more ships of the same class are in the pipeline. Among them is the «Fedor Litke», which already is on the water and on its way to Sabetta, 24RosInfo reports.

Another three Yamalmax ships will be built for Dynagas. In addition, a consortium of Teekay and China LNG Shipping will get six ships of the class, and three are built for Mitsui OSK Lines and China Cosco Shipping, 24ri writes.

Teekay in January this year announced that its first ship of the class, the «Eduard Toll», had been launched.

No Russian flag

However, none of the new ships will carry a Russian flag. Even Sovcomflot’s «Christophe de Margerie» has Limassol in Cyprus as its home port.

That is not in line with the increasingly protectionist line of the Kremlin.

In a recent meeting with key government ministers and representatives of the shipping industry, Putin made clear that all ships carrying oil and gas products along the Northern Sea Route must «exclusively carry Russian flags».

Novatek’s promo video of the Yamal LNG

«This measure will strengthen the position of Russian shipping companies and create additional impetus for renewal of their fleets», he underlined.

According to Putin, a bill on the issue is already being assessed by the Russian State Duma and is expected to be adopted «in the near future».

It is a potential serious challenge to Novatek and its Yamal LNG project, which has been carefully developed together with French and Chinese investors. The latter have strong interest in promoting their own national industries in the region and Chinese companies will ultimately carry a major share of the natural gas exported from the region.

Domestic shipbuilding
The Zvezda shipyard in the far eastern town of Bolshoy Kamen. (Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters)

The nationalisation of Arctic oil shipments comes as the Zvezda shipyard on Russia’s east coast is getting ready to take on major construction orders. The yard is heavily supported by the federal authorities and is built to be able to construct big-scale tankers, including with ice classification.

Both Rosneft and Sovcomflot has already placed order of ice-class vessels at the yard. However, more companies must contribute, Putin underlined.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Arctic nickel, not oil, could soon power the world’s cars, Blog by Mia Bennett, Cryopolitics

Finland: U.S. pullout from Paris climate pact condemned by Finnish leaders, Yle News

Germany: Cheap oil from the Arctic? Fake news, says climate economist Kemfert, blog by Irene Quaile, Deutsche Welle

Norway: Statoil greenlights northernmost drilling project in Arctic Norway, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Novatek’s LNG project now operational in Arctic Russia, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Sweden’s climate minister : U.S. withdrawal from Paris sends a bad signal, Radio Sweden

United States: Big questions emerge over $43 billion gas-export deal between Alaska and China, Alaska Dispatch News

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Atle Staalesen, The Independent Barents Observer

Atle Staalesen, The Independent Barents Observer

For more news from the Barents region visit The Independent Barents Observer.

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