LNG carrier transits the Northeast Passage in winter | Polarjournal
The Arc7 LNG carrier “Christophe de Margerie” is loaded in Sabetta. The loading capacity is 172,000 m³. (Photo: Total)

On January 16 at 05:20 local time, the LNG carrier “Christophe de Margerie” reached Cape Dezhnev, the easternmost point of Russia. The ice-breaking freighter had departed from Sabetta and headed east along the Northern Sea Route. This was the first time Russian LNG tankers had sailed via this route in January. The crossing was part of a commercial voyage to deliver a cargo of liquefied natural gas to the Asia-Pacific region. During the voyage it was also tested whether a second freighter could follow the “Christophe de Margerie” in its opened track.

The LNG freighter “Christophe de Margerie” drives backwards through thick ice and breaks up ice up to 2.1 meters thick with its hull specially designed for this operation. (Photo: Sovcomflot)

The results of the crossing confirm that the time frame for commercial cargo transport along the Northeast Passage can be extended by 1-2 months during the autumn-winter period. This is a further step towards the organisation of safe year-round navigation along the entire length of the Northeast Passage.

The transit has provided extensive information on ice conditions along the eastern part of the Northeast Passage, which will prove valuable when planning transportation solutions for future industrial projects in the Arctic and designing future generations of Arctic vessels, both icebreakers and cargo ships with high ice classes, Sovcomflot reported in a statement.

The LNG tanker “Christophe de Margerie” was launched in Sabetta on January 5. The journey to Cape Dezhnev took 10 days and 21 hours. The ship covered a distance of 2,474 nautical miles. Throughout the Northern Sea route, the “Christophe de Margerie” navigated without an icebreaker convoy and had maintained a safe speed, taking into account ice conditions and limited visibility. About 65% of the way, the ship sailed stern-first, i.e. backwards, thus implementing the double-acting principle of its icebreaker design. The average speed was 9.5 knots. The destination of the “Christophe de Margerie” is the Chinese port of Dalian.

The LNG carrier “Christophe de Margerie” passed through the Northeast Passage from Sabetta to Cape Dezhnev in 10 days and 21 hours. The destination is the Chinese port of Dalian. (Graphic: Heiner Kubny)

Another Sovocomflot LNG carrier, the “Nikolay Yevgenov” departed Sabetta one day later and followed in the wake of the “Christophe de Margerie” all the way, reaching the Bering Strait on January 17. This allowed us to test the tactics of how two independent ships can benefit from each other under ice conditions.

Sovcomflot operates 15 LNG carriers, all with Arc7 ice class. All 15 LNG carriers are based on the ‘Double Acting Ship Concept’ which can be operated independently without icebreaker escort along the North Sea route. By choosing a reduced keel instead of a bulbous icebreaker keel, the vessel can sail faster in open water and light ice (up to 1.5 m thick). In thicker ice, the LNG carrier works aft, which means the icebreaker moves backwards and can thus break ice up to 2.1 metres thick with the icebreaker hull.

Sovcomflot operates 15 LNG carriers, all with ice class Arc7 and all based on the ‘double acting ship concept’. (Photo: Sovcomflot)

The LNG carriers can transport up to 70,000 tonnes of liquefied natural gas. The fleet of LNG tankers plays an important role in Russia’s ambitious plan for the Northeast Passage. By 2024, 80 million tons of cargo will be transported, a large part of which will be LNG.

Heiner Kubny, PolarJournal

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