Russia’s new Arctic super-tanker brings Norwegian LNG to Asia

By Atle Staalesen, The Independent Barents Observer - August 1, 2017
A new Russian Arctic LNG tanker Christophe de Margerie is seen moored during its naming ceremony in St. Petersburg, Russia, June 3, 2017. REUTERS/Olga Maltseva/Pool
A new Russian Arctic LNG tanker, Christophe de Margerie, is seen moored during its naming ceremony in St. Petersburg, Russia, June 3, 2017. (Olga Maltseva / Pool / Reuters)

Loaded with liquefied gas from Norway’s Snøhvit field, the ice-breaking LNG tanker Christophe de Margerie is making an unescorted voyage across the Northern Sea Route to South Korea.

It is the first commercial voyage of the unique vessel, originally built for company Novatek and its grand Yamal LNG project. The Christophe de Margerie loaded LNG at Statoil’s Melkøya gas terminal on the Norwegian Barents Sea coast in late July and set a course east.

On Aug. 1 the ship entered the Kara Sea on its way to North Korea, Yamal LNG said. It will make it through the Northern Sea Route without icebreaker assistance, the company says, in a voyage that is expected to take 15 days.

Information from ship tracking service Marine Traffic shows that the tanker on Tuesday was making it through the straits separating the Bolshevik Island and the Russian mainland, the gate between the Kara Sea and the Laptev Sea.

The tanker sailed north of archipelago Novaya Zemlya. Information from the Russian Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute indicates that the ship encountered its first ice only in the eastern part of the Kara Sea. More complicated ice conditions will be met in the waters around the New Siberian Islands and the more eastern Wrangle Island.

The Christophe de Margerie is well fit for the voyage. It has ice protection level Arc7, and capacity to autonomously break through 2.1 meters (about 6.8 feet) of ice.

According to shipping company Sovcomflot, the owner, the LNG tanker will have engine power of 45 MW, which is “comparable with a nuclear-powered icebreaker.”

It is the first in a fleet of 15 tankers of the kind built to serve the Yamal LNG. The ships can carry shiploads up to 172,600 cubic tons of liquefied natural gas.

The brand-new vessel is built by the Daewoo Shipbuilding Marine Engineering (DSME) in Korea, and designed for shipments to Sabetta, the new Russian port and LNG terminal in the Yamal Peninsula. It will be operated by Sovcomflot and carry a Cyprian flag.

Only once before has a tanker brought LNG from Norway to the Asian market through the Northern Sea Route. In late 2012, the tanker Ob River successfully sailed the route and delivered LNG to a terminal in Japan.

Once the Yamal LNG project comes into production, presumably late this year, the Christophe de Margerie will be busy with shipments from Yamal. When in full swing, the project operated by Novatek will produce an annual 16.5 million tons of liquefied gas. The LNG will be shipped to buyers both in Europe and Asia, some of it along the Northern Sea Route.