Russian Arctic shipments to Asia grow slightly, as LNG carriers deliver to eastern markets

The volume of goods shipped along the Northern Sea Route so far this year increased by 1.1 percent over the same period last year.

By Atle Staalesen, The Independent Barents Observer - July 8, 2020
The LNG carrier Christophe de Margerie is one of several vessels shipping LNG along the Northern Sea Route. (Rosmorport via The Independent Barents Observer)

Shipments on the Northern Sea Route continue to increase, despite a global pandemic and world economic meltdown. In the first half of 2020, the volume of goods on the Russian Arctic shipping route amounted to 14.5 million tons.

That is an increase of 1.1 percent compared with the same period in 2019, the federal sea and river agency Rosmorrechflot said on its Instagram page.

LNG shipments from Sabetta constitute a lion’s share of the goods, and since May, a significant volume of those have been shipped also eastwards to Asian markets.

Eastbound voyage

On the May 19, the LNG tanker Christophe de Margerie set out from Sabetta and arrived on June 9 in the Chinese port of Jiangsu.

It was the earliest eastbound shipment on the route ever for this kind of vessel.

The Christophe de Margerie was followed by the Vladimir Voronin, another natural gas carrier that sailed across parts of the route without icebreaker escorts.

In late June, the Georgiy Ushakov and Vladimir Rusanov also crossed the Arctic route.

First westbound voyage

On June 26, the Christophe de Margerie again set out to sea, this time with westbound course for the Russian Arctic.

The carrier departed from the Chinese port of Yangkou and is estimated to reach Russian Arctic LNG terminal of Sabetta by July 13, data from ship tracking service MarineTraffic shows. On July 7, the ship was sailing in the East Siberian Sea with a course north of the New Siberian Islands.

On its westbound voyage, the Christophe de Margerie encountered the Georgiy Brusilov that is currently on its way an eastbound voyage from Sabetta to Taiwan. The vessel is escorted by nuclear icebreaker Yamal.

All the vessels are part of a fleet of 15 Arc7 ice-class ships that shuttle to and from Sabetta for company Novatek and its Yamal LNG partners. The 299-meter-long vessels can take onboard up to 172,600 cubic meters natural gas.

Shrinking sea ice

Sea ice along the Northern Sea Route has shrunk dramatically over a number of years and in September 2019 the ice extent was at its second smallest level ever.

Among the drivers of the sea ice melting are the quickly increasing temperatures.

The year 2019 saw the second highest average temperatures in the Arctic ever, and the latest climate report by Russian meteorological service Roshydromet says that average winter temperatures along the Northern Sea Route, the waters located along the country’s Arctic coast, have increased by about 5 degrees since the 1990s.

In 2020, the heat continues. The first half of the year was the warmest in Russia’s 130 years of temperature measuring. In June, the average temperature in Arctic Siberia were up to eight degrees above normal, information from meteorological service Roshydromet shows.