For the first time, a cargo ship carries heavy construction modules across the Northern Sea Route in winter


A ship owned by ZPMC Red Box Energy Services, a Netherlands-based marine-transport services provider, has become the first cargo vessel to sail heavy construction modules along the Northern Sea Route, a shipping lane north of Russia, during the winter months.

The Audax, which is capable of breaking through second-year ice up to 1.5 meters (about 5 feet) thick, is reported to have arrived on Jan. 4 in the port of Sabetta, on the Yamal Peninsula, where the components were delivered for use in construction of the Yamal LNG project.

The ship departed Qingdao, China, in November, passing first through the Bering Strait, and then westbound along the NSR, where it was escorted for part of the way by Russian icebreakers.

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Aside from a three-month window each summer, Sabetta is only accessible by ice-classed vessels, but the timing of the delivery of the three 6,000-tonne modules was necessary in order for the $27 billion natural-gas liquefaction plant, being built by Novatek, its Russian-majority owner, Total, a French firm, and the China National Petroleum Corporation, a state-owned venture, to be completed in time for production to come on-line as planned later this year.

The Audax, and the Pugnax, an identical sister ship, were purpose-built for Arctic module-transportation and delivered to ZPMC Red Box Energy Services in 2016. Both can operate year-round above the Arctic Circle in temperatures as low as -40°C and are expected to continue serving the Yamal site.

“We invested a lot over the last two years in the training and preparation of our crews for this voyage,” Philip Adkins, the managing director, said in a statement.

In April, both ships sailed to Sabetta from China, though at that time, they sailed eastward on the NSR, after departing southern China and sailing through the Suez Canal.

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The two ships are scheduled to make further deliveries to the Yamal site this winter, though ZPMC Red Box Energy Services expects the modules will be transferred to the two ships in the port of Zeebrugge, in Belgium, after arriving from China via the Suez Canal.

All routes lead to Yamal.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that Zeebrugge is in the Netherlands. The story has been updated to reflect that it is in Belgium.