Arctic gas carrier completes trial voyage along the Northern Sea Route

Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, Presidential Envoy in the Far Eastern Federal District Yuri Trutnev held a meeting on the progress of the trial voyage in the eastern direction of the Northern Sea Route during the autumn-winter navigation.

“The Northern Sea Route can and should become the most important traffic artery of Russia, allowing shortening the sea route from Europe to Asia by more than one third. In 2020, almost 33 million tons of cargo was transported along the Northern Sea Route, including more than 18 million tons of liquefied natural gas. Over the past five years, cargo traffic has increased almost fivefold. But the potential of the Northern Sea Route is much greater. In accordance with the Decree of the President of the Russian Federation, by 2024 the cargo traffic along the Northern Sea Route should be increased to 80 million tons per year. It is possible to solve this problem by increasing the period of Arctic navigation,” said Yuri Trutnev, opening the meeting.

Transit navigation in the eastern sector of the Arctic usually ends in November and reopens only in July. But on January 5, 2021, the Sovcomflot shipping company launched the latest high-latitude voyage in the history of Arctic navigation in the interests of NOVATEK, with the participation of Rosatom State Corporation. Now the LNG carrier Christophe de Margerie, with its new capabilities for moving in ice conditions, is at the final stage of a unique trial roundtrip on the Sabetta (Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug) – Jiangsu (PRC) – Sabetta route. It is navigating under the guidance of the nuclear-powered icebreaker "50 Let Pobedy" going west from Cape Dezhnev.

For the first time in history, a large-capacity cargo ship makes the transition along the Northern Sea Route in February. The tanker successfully crossed the waters of three seas – Chukchi, East Siberian and Laptev. This late experimental cargo voyage became possible thanks to the many years of systematic work by PJSC Sovcomflot and PJSC NOVATEK to develop the transit potential of the Northern Sea Route. Since 2010, the companies, in cooperation with FSUE Atomflot, have been consistently implementing a program of experimental cargo voyages in the water area of the Northern Sea Route for the development of navigation in difficult climatic and ice conditions of the Arctic sea basin and further expansion of the navigation window necessary for the organization of safe year-round sea transportation of liquefied natural gas from the Gulf of Ob of the Kara Sea to the east.

Together with FSUE Atomflot, the companies have done a lot of preparatory work, carried out a detailed assessment of all possible risks associated with the difficult ice conditions, and defined safe maneuvering criteria for the caravan.

Chairman of the Management Board of PAO NOVATEK Leonid Mikhelson noted that the company is consistently increasing the volume of hydrocarbon transportation along the Northern Sea Route, annually expanding the ice navigation period, testing the unique capabilities of the maritime transport and logistics system, gaining and accumulating experience in shipping in the Russian Arctic. “A significant contribution to the further development of year-round shipping along the Northern Sea Route will be made by the commissioning of 15 gas carriers, which are currently under construction at Russia's Zvezda shipyard for our new project Arctic LNG 2. The vessels designed to ensure year-round navigation in the eastern sector of the Northern Sea Route will have higher icebreaking characteristics compared to gas carriers of the Yamal LNG project. In addition, we expect that by the end of 2022 two new nuclear-powered icebreakers of the LK-60 type will be commissioned. This will allow us and our partner Atomflot to ensure year-round LNG transportation along the eastern sector of the Northern Sea Route from the Arctic LNG 2 project, the launch of the first production line of which is scheduled for early 2023,” he said.

According to Igor Tonkovidov, general director and chairman of the management Board of PJSC Sovcomflot, the preliminary results of the transition prove that the navigation window in the eastern part of the Arctic can be significantly expanded - of course, provided there is effective icebreaker assistance, the use of Arctic ice-class transport ships and compliance with the highest safety standards navigation.

The experience gained by the company in navigation in the Arctic sea basin shows that the working conditions in the region require additional serious competencies and the highest disciplines from the crew, and in the coming years the need for specialists of this level will significantly increase. In the period from 2023 to 2025, Sovcomflot plans to commission 18 new icebreaking gas carriers for the Arctic LNG 2 project, which will create over a thousand new jobs for Russian seamen. In 2020, Sovcomflot began implementing a large-scale training program for the required personnel from among its own officers. We also consider it expedient to intensify the training of such specialists within the framework of the departmental system of maritime professional education,” he said.

As reported by Sergei Gen, captain of the Christophe de Margerie gas carrier, the voyage is proceeding normally, the ship is in good condition, the crew of 33 feels good. “We are proud that our crew was honored to complete this historic voyage. For the first time, a tanker of this size overcomes the eastern sector of the Arctic in February. We consider the ice situation along the route to be difficult, but within the expected range,” the captain said.

In addition to the nuclear-powered icebreaker, he Marine Operations Headquarters (MOH) of FSUE Atomflot also provided information and navigation support along the route of the gas carrier was also provided. According to Vyacheslav Ruksha, deputy director general, director of the Northern Sea Route Directorate of the State Atomic Energy Corporation Rosatom, by the beginning of the summer-autumn navigation of 2020, an automated control system (ACS) of the Marine Operations Headquarters was put into operation. It collects and analyzes information on hydrometeorological, navigation and ice conditions in the water area of the Northern Sea Route within 24 hours. In real time, navigators are provided with personal navigation recommendations and the most up-to-date information on all navigational hazards on the route of ships in the water area of the Northern Sea Route. In 2020, MOH FSUE Atomflot performed 11 ice-free voyages in the water area of the Northern Sea Route.

At present, FSUE Atomflot has completed the development of a technical assignment for the creation of the Headquarters of the Unified Navigation Control Center (HUNCC) on the basis of the automated control system for navigation of ships on the Northern Sea Route. It will optimize the traffic routes and the arrangement of nuclear-powered icebreakers in the water area of the Northern Sea Route. The ultimate goal of the product implementation will be the transition to automatic routing in the Arctic region, which will increase its logistic component, ensure the maximum safety of vessel traffic and affect the commercial attractiveness of the Northern Sea Route.

"Nowadays, there is a medium type of ice conditions in the Northern Sea Route. The maximum ice thickness on the route of the caravan reaches up to 1.5 meters. There are extensive hummocky areas. Despite this, the caravan is still moving in the waters area of the Northern Sea Route in the direction of the port of Sabetta. The average speed since the beginning of the voyage is 7 knots," Dmitry Lobusov, captain of the "50 Let Pobedy" vessel informed from the board of the nuclear icebreaker. He thanked the Marine Operations Headquarters, the Master and crew of the Christophe de Margerie LNG carrier for their high professionalism, as well as the NOVATEK and Sovcomflot companies for their trust and high training of specialists.

"This voyage brought us one step closer to implementing the plans of the country's leadership to increase navigation and increase cargo traffic on the Northern Sea Route. I am sure that the Northern Sea Route is competitive, that changes in the ice situation and the improvement of marine technologies create new conditions for its development. The Northern Sea Route will be in high demand, the number of transit transport will increase, and this is important for developing the country's economy and our Arctic territories," concluded Yuri Trutnev.

The event was attended by Chairman of the Management Board of PAO NOVATEK Leonid Mikhelson, Chairman of the Board of Directors of PAO Sovcomflot Sergei Frank, General Director - Chairman of the Management Board of PAO Sovcomflot Igor Tonkovidov, Deputy General Director - Director of the Northern Sea Route Directorate of the State Atomic Energy Corporation Rosatom Vyacheslav Ruksha, special representative of the State Atomic Energy Corporation Rosatom for the development of the Arctic Vladimir Panov.