Vessel leaves port of Murmansk as Russia's Yamal project gears up to export its first cargo before the end of this year
Russia's first ice-breaking LNG carrier has left port in search of Arctic sea ice to trial its new features prior to final delivery.
SCF Group (Sovcomflot)'s 173,400-cbm Arc7 newbuilding Christophe de Margerie left the Russian port of Murmansk on Sunday and is scheduled to meet with the world's most powerful ice-breaker, 50 let Pobedy (built 2007), at the end of this week.
The two vessels are due to meet off the Arctic Ocean archipelago of Novaya Zemlya in northern Russia.
From there, the ships will sail out from the northernmost point of Cape Zhelaniya into the Kara Sea in search of sufficiently thick sea ice to test the LNG carrier's ice-breaking capabilities.
Sources following the ship's pioneering trials say sea ice in the region is currently only around one-metre thick.
The Christophe de Margerie, which is designed to sail through ice of 2.1-metre thickness, needs to prove it can break ice of at least 1.5 metres before SCF will take final delivery.
Ice trials of the vessel are expected to take place until the middle of next month.
The LNG carrier, which is the first of 15 sisterships being constructed at South Korea's DSME, is undergoing a unique handover to its owner.
The ship underwent an "initial delivery" in early November when it left the Okpo-based shipyard on what proved to be a slow voyage to Zeebrugge, Belgium, where it docked last month.
The LNG carrier left the Belgian port this month with more than 80 people onboard, many drawn from its equipment suppliers.
Handover at Yamal
On completion of its ice trials, the vessel is due to be handed over to SCF at the Yamal project's Sabetta Port at the end of next month or in early April.
Last week, Patrick Pouyanne, chief executive of Yamal shareholder Total, said Leonid Mikhelson - his counterpart at the project's Russian stakeholder, Novatek - had told him that an LNG cargo could be shipped from the first train of the new liquefaction plant by October.
This is earlier than the end of 2017 or early 2018 estimates previously given for the first shipment from Yamal.
Cargoes from the Russian project are set to be exported on the Arc7 fleet to Asia via the Northern Sea Route during its navigable period between May and November. Four more of these vessels are due to be delivered this year.
In the winter months, LNG will be transhipped into conventional so-called shuttle LNG carriers in Northern Europe for shipment on non-Arctic routes.