Powerful LNG tankers head for China through thick Arctic ice

Thick ice. (iStock)
Two powerful tankers are on their way from Sabetta in this year’s first eastbound voyages through the Northern Sea Route.

The “Vladimir Rusanov” was on Friday breaking through thick ice in the Laptev Sea (east of Sabetta). The vessel, which is the newest of the five carriers currently serving the Yamal LNG project, will be this year’s first ship sailing through the eastern part of the Northern Sea Route.

On board is about 70,000 tons of LNG from the Yamal Peninsula (Russian Arctic). Destination is the Chinese port of Jiangdu.

Navigation difficult

Ice conditions are complicated. Maps from the Russian Arctic and Antarctic Institute show that the whole western part of the Laptev Sea is covered by up to two meter thick very close drift ice. Parts of the eastern Laptev Sea is opening up, while the East Siberian Sea remains covered by fast ice and very close drift ice.

The “Vladimir Rusanov” is owned jointly by Japanese company Mitsui and the China COSCO Shipping Corporation Limited. It came into service in March this year.

Not far behind is the “Eduard Toll”, another LNG carrier loaded with gas from the Yamal. The tanker on Friday 29th approached the Vilkitsky Strait, the waters separating the Kara Sea and the Laptev Sea. Also here, ice conditions are complicated. Satellite data show that the strait is covered by fast ice, a solid layer of ice.

The “Eduard Toll” is owned by Canadian shipping company Teekay and came into service in January this year. Like the rest of the new Yamal tankers, it is built by the Daewoo Shipbuilding Marine Engineering (DSME) in Korea. Also the «Eduard Toll» has course for China, information from ship tracking system MarineTraffic shows.

The new Yamalmax class of carriers is able to break through 2,1 meter thick ice.

Slowed down by ice

The voyages of the “Vladimir Rusanov” and “Eduard Toll” is likely to take some time. Both vessels were on Friday 22nd June in Sabetta to load LNG, information from the Northern Sea Route Administration shows. A week later, they are still less that half-way to their destinations.

The ice situation in the Russian Arctic has this spring and early summer been extraordinary difficult. Rosatomflot, the company operating the Russian nuclear-powered icebreakers, has had to prolong its period of ice-escorts in the Gulf of Ob and Gazprom Neft has ordered assistance from an additional powerful icebreaker to cope with the situation around its Priraazlomnaya oil platform in the Pechora Sea.

Novatek, the company which is operating the Yamal LNG plant, at the moment has five LNG carriers at its disposal. That number will gradually increase to 15. They all have top-class ice protection Arc7. The will over a big number of year shuttle to and from Sabetta, the new terminal on the Yamal coast.

Novatek in December 2017 officially launched production at the first of three production trains in its grand Yamal LNG. Each train includes production of 5,5 million tons of LNG. With the opening of the second train, presumably in November this year, Novatek will ultimately produce up to 11 million tons of liquified natural gas per year, or more than 900,000 tons per month.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Ottawa makes deal to buy three icebreakers for Canadian Coast Guard, CBC News

China: China opens bids for its first nuclear-powered icebreaker, The Independent Barents Observer

Finland: US icebreaker investment could bring 2 billions euro windfall to Finland, Yle News

Norway: A cruise ship bound for the North Pole, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Russia’s resources minister to open new Arctic office, The Independent Barents Observer

United States: U.S. Coast Guard turns to Canada for help with designing its new heavy icebreaker, Radio Canada International

Atle Staalesen, The Independent Barents Observer

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

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