Northeast Passage not so safe to sail | Polarjournal
Just one day after the “Christophe de Margerie”, the second LNG carrier “Nikolay Yevgenov” had started its transit of the Northeast Passage in Sabetta. This caused damage to the ship’s propulsion system. (Photo: D. Lobusov)

The passage of the Northeast Passage in winter does not yet seem to be without problems. As it became known at the end of January, the LNG carrier “Nikolay Yevgenov” suffered damage at the Azipod, the propulsion system. According to Russian media reports, the propulsion unit likely failed on January 16 as the ship approached the Bering Strait. After sailing all the way from Sabetta along the northern coast of Russia at a speed of about 9 knots, the tanker “Nikolay Yevgenov” suddenly slowed down to 3 knots.

The passage through the Northeast Passage in the winter months places special demands on the crew and the ship. (Photo: Gazprom)

The transit of the Northern Sea Route in January was considered a winter test run and was carried out with two LNG carriers. The “Christophe de Margerie” left Sabetta on January 5, 2021. Only one day later followed the “Nikolay Yevgenov“. At the eastern end of the passage, the LNG carrier had to stop and continued at a slow speed before turning into the Bering Sea. Russian media reports speculated that the ship had damaged one of its three azipods. The ship was originally scheduled to arrive in the Chinese port of Jingtang on January 28. As there were only two Azipods in use, this schedule could not be adhered to. Little was known about the circumstances or extent of the damage.

The LNG tanker “Nikolay Yevgenov” will be in dry dock in Brest for the next few weeks.

After unloading the gas cargo in the Chinese port of Jingtang and a stopover in Korea and passage through the Suez Canal, the “Nikolay Yevgenov” arrived in Brest, France, on February 25, where the ship was taken to a dry dock for repairs. In addition to the repairs, various inspections of the propulsion system, hull and other machinery are to be carried out.

She is already the second ship that had to return to dry dock because of damage to her azipods. Built in 2018, the 299-meter Cyprus-flagged LNG carrier “Georgiy Brusilov” was in dry dock in December 2019. No details were released about the damage to the azipod, including whether it was due to winter passage.

Gigantic sight of the three azipodes of the “Christophe de Margerie”, the first ship of the new Arc-7 LNG icebreaker fleet. (Photo: ABB)

Winter trips as trial runs for the future

It also became known that NOVATEK, the owner of 15 LNG tankers is planning further spring voyages along the Northeast Passage. The Arc7 tanker “Christophe de Margerie” successfully traversed the eastbound ice-covered portion of the Northern Sea Route for the first time in May 2020, reaching the Bering Strait after 12 days.

The ship also successfully traversed the passage in January 2021 in a west-east direction and in the opposite direction on the way back. This, however, with the support of the icebreaker “50 Let Pobedy“, as the ice conditions in February are more difficult than in January.

The LNG carrier “Christophe de Margerie” sails west through the Northeast Passage on February 15, 2021, coming from the east with the support of the icebreaker “50 Let Pobedy”. (Foto: Novatek)

According to Sovcomflot, which owns the “Christophe de Margerie“, no cargo ship has ever passed through the eastern Arctic in January. The February return voyage is part of “systemic efforts to gradually expand transit shipping in the eastern part of the Arctic,” said Nikita Sekretarev, spokesman for the shipping company, adding, “In the future, the goal is to establish safe year-round navigation throughout the region.”

Heiner Kubny, PolarJournal

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