Sovcomflot's Arc7 LNG ship completes Northern Sea Route transit two months early



Christophe de Margerie tests its skills in ice as it completes landmark eastbound Arctic passage

Yamal LNG’s flagship ice-breaking LNG carrier has completed a laden passage through the Arctic's Northern Sea Route two months in advance of when similar voyages have previously been undertaken.

Leading Yamal shareholder Novatek said 172,600-cbm Christophe de Margerie (built 2017)’s 2,563-nautical-mile Arctic passage from its Sabetta terminal to the Bering Strait took 12 days.

Novatek said the Arc7 LNG carrier left Sabetta on 18 May passing Ob Bay and a part of the Kara Sea without ice-breaker assistance before being met by Atomflot’s nuclear icebreaker Yamal which escorted the vessel with ice navigation on the eastern part of the Northern Sea Route.

The vessels in Yamal's 15-ship Arc7 LNG fleet are capable of independently breaking ice of up to 2.1 metres of thickness.

The voyage took place before the traditional start of the summer navigation season in average ice conditions, with the maximum ice thickness on the route reaching 1.3 meters, Novatek said. Eastbound transportation of LNG along the Northern Sea Route is not normally performed in May as this represents one of the most difficult months for navigation.

Novatek chairman Leonid Mikhelson thanked crews of both vessels for their coordinated work in the harsh Arctic conditions.

“We are actively working to expand the eastbound navigation season for the NSR and looking forward to further development of state support for this trade route by increasing icebreaking capabilities as well as full-scale navigation and hydrographic assistance for shipping," he said.

"This support allows us to significantly contribute to the annual cargo turnover along the Northern Sea Route by implementing our large-scale LNG projects to produce up to 70m tonnes by 2030”.

Russia has said it wants to see the NSR opened up to year-round traffic from 2025.

Unique voyage

Sovcomflot’s chairman of the board of directors Sergey Frank described Christophe de Margerie’s passage as “a unique voyage” and thanked all concerned for their “excellent performance”.

The company said its vessel transited the most challenging parts of the route with icebreaker Yamal's support, including fast-ice fields in the Vilkitsky Strait and hummocky ice floes in the East Siberian and the Chukchi seas.

Sovcomflot's president and chief executive Igor Tonkovidov said: “ This successful voyage across the NSR, in May, allows us to move one step closer to realising the full transit potential of the Northern Sea Route, marking an important expansion in the shipping opportunities available to Arctic industrial projects in particular."

Tonkovidov said: “Even in the challenging ice conditions encountered during this time of the year, choosing the NSR allows for a significant reduction in the length of a voyage delivering LNG to APAC ports compared with using the Suez Canal.”

The CEO, who took on the top job at Sovcomflot last year, said the shorter voyage both allows to optimise logistics and reduce the carbon footprint, while transporting and consuming LNG itself – a product he described as "the cleanest fuel currently available.”

Christophe de Margerie's master on this groundbreaking voyage – its 45th for Yamal LNG – was Captain Sergey Gen, who is no stranger to the NSR.

Captain Gen said: “Ice conditions encountered during the voyage matched our forecast: on some segments, the movement was heavily obstructed, but the crew was well prepared to handle it.”

Giving credit to the crews of both the LNG carrier and the icebreaker for their coordination between the two vessels throughout, Captain Gen said: "The voyage has proven Christophe de Margerie’s excellent icebreaking, manoeuvring, and structural capabilities, both when following an icebreaker or sailing independently in various modes," he added.

Sovcomflot said the voyage provided extensive information about the ice conditions along the eastern part of the NSR.

“This will prove valuable for planning transportation solutions for future energy projects in the Arctic, and could help expedite the future growth of NSR cargo traffic. This information will also be reflected in the design of future generations of Arctic vessels,” the company said.