NOVATEK shipped the first LNG shipment of this navigation season from Yamal eastward directly to the Asian market. According to Vesselfinder, the Arc7 tanker Nikolai Urvantsev is due to deliver the LNG shipment to Japan by 2 July. Now the gas carrier is sailing without icebreaker assistance, but the Yamal nuclear-powered icebreaker has previously cleared a channel for it in the Vilkitsky Strait and is now returning to meet it. This time, the company did not take much risk with the very early passage of the route, sending the cargo through the Northern Sea Route almost a month later than a year earlier.
On June 13, NOVATEK launched LNG supplies from the Yamal LNG plant through the Bering Strait along the eastern route. As follows from Vesselfinder’s data, the Arc7 tanker Nikolay Urvantsev (co-owners – MOL and COSCO) left the port of Sabetta on Sunday, June 13, now it is at the exit from the Gulf of Ob, turning east. The end point of the route is the Japanese port of Sendai, where the tanker is to arrive on July 2. So far, the LNG carrier goes without icebreaker escort.
A Kommersant source familiar with the situation notes that the Yamal nuclear icebreaker has already gone ahead of the gas carrier, which is supposed to “open” the Vilkitsky Strait for it, and then go to meet the ship. According to the forecasts of the AARI, the ice situation is quite decent, a difficult situation was observed in the Kara Sea this year, he says. Now small problems may arise at the exit from the East Siberian and Chukchi Seas, the source adds. At the same time, more attention is now focused on conducting ultra-early flights in February, he concludes.
Traditionally, navigation in the eastern sector of the Northern Sea Route opens in June and ends in December. The rest of the time, NOVATEK’s tankers supply gas to Asia via a longer route – through the Suez Canal and the Strait of Malacca, which takes up to 45 days. The route through the Northern Sea Route takes 18 days to Japan, 20 days to China.
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NOVATEK is trying to expand the navigation window to the east: for example, last season, navigation was launched on May 18, and in January, the tankers Christophe de Margerie (January 5) and Nikolay Evgenov (January 6) were sent without icebreaker escort. route “Nikolay Evgenov” damaged one of the three azipods (propulsion systems), after which it was required to dock the ship.
“There are difficulties in April, May with ice conditions … If we succeed, maybe in May we will also open the season. If it’s tense, it will be in June ”, – said at the end of April the head of NOVATEK Leonid Mikhelson, answering the question when the company plans to open navigation along the Northern Sea Route.
Experiments with super-early and super-late shipments of NOVATEK’s cargo are important in the context of the possibility of further launching year-round navigation in the Eastern Arctic. As the head of Sovcomflot, Igor Tonkovidov, said at SPIEF-2021, effective year-round navigation along the Northern Sea Route may begin in the winter of 2023–2024. or 2024–2025
In 2020, Yamal LNG sent 34 consignments along the Northern Sea Route (2.4 million tons, 12.7% of the total production of the LNG plant), follows from the company’s annual report. This is twice as much as in 2019 (1.2 million tons). The number of shipments in 2021 is likely to remain approximately the same, since NOVATEK has already assembled the entire fleet of Arc7 ice-class gas carriers.
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According to Mikhail Grigoriev, head of the Gekon consulting company, LNG transportation along the Northern Sea Route to the east reduces the time and cost of transportation, but requires coordinated actions by the entire fleet of gas carriers of the project. This is due to an increase in the duration of a circular voyage almost twofold and a corresponding decrease in the carrying capacity of a grouping of gas carriers of the “Christophe de Margerie” type (Arc7.— “B”), he explains. To ensure uniform export of Yamal LNG products during navigation to the east in the summer-autumn period, vessels of lower ice classes – Arc4, Ice2 are additionally attracted on a charter basis, even without ice reinforcement – to export LNG to the west. This circumstance – the attraction of the “compensation” fleet – should be taken into account when expanding the navigation window to the east, says Mikhail Grigoriev.