Sanctions are hitting Russian icebreaker builders

Plans for LNG-powered icebreakers were scrapped because of sanctions over the war in Ukraine.

By Atle Staalesen, The Independent Barents Observer - September 15, 2022
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Icebreaker designed by Aker Arctic for Nornickel is shown. (Illustration via The Independent Barents Observer)

Russian companies Nornickel and Rosneft have scrapped plans to build high-tech icebreakers fueled by LNG. The vessels will instead be diesel-fueled, Deputy Head of Rosatom’s Northern Sea Route Directorate Maksim Kulinko confirms.

The two companies each planned to build two powerful icebreakers fueled by LNG. But the war against Ukraine and subsequent international sanctions has led to a change of plans.

“Preliminary, we looked at the opportunity to build icebreakers fueled with LNG, but considering the sanctions and the companies’ revision of plans, both Nornickel and Rosneft confirm that they [instead] are interested in building diesel icebreakers,” Kulinko explains.

He adds that his company is “still in negotiations” with Novatek, PortNews reports.

Liquefied natural gas has over the past years increasingly been seen as a potential fuel for the powerful icebreaking vessels. Interest has grown as Novatek has developed its grand LNG plants along the Russian Arctic coast. The Yamal LNG now alone produces up to 18 million tons per year and could easily provide needed fuel for the vessels.

Rosneft, Novatek and Nornickel are all in need of enhanced icebreaker capacity as new industrial projects are under development along the remote and icy north Russian coast. The original plan was that each of the companies would build two ships operating on LNG.  The two former companies would build their vessels at the new Zvezda yard in Vladivostok, while Nornickel would cooperate with the Helsinki Shipyard Oy.

Finnish company Aker Arctic has been a close partner to Nornickel and the projected 45 MW icebreakers are based on Finnish design. The ships will have ice class Arc8 and engines that can operate both on LNG and diesel fuel.

The two companies in January 2022 signed a contract on the ships that will be designed for Nornickel’s operations in the Kara Sea and Yenisey River.

However, the future of the ships might now be uncertain. According to Nornickel Vice President Sergei Dubovitsky, the construction now faces certain “limitations.”