Shipping LNG in the Arctic

We have some indication, we will soon see LNG being shipped in the Arctic. gCaptain reports an apparent intention of a Chinese/Greek consortium to build five ice capable LNG tankers for the transport of Russian LNG via the Arctic.

If these ships actually use an Arctic route to China, it will almost certainly be via the Northern Sea Route close to Russia rather than the North West Passage near Canada and the US, but both routes must exit very close to Alaska as the traffic moves through the 45 mile wide Bering Strait and past the Diomedes and St. Lawrence Island.

There is no indication of how large these proposed LNG tankers are, but take a look at the size of the tanks on this LNG tanker in this photo, one of several you can find at this gCaptain post.

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Yes, those are people casting the shadows.

10 thoughts on “Shipping LNG in the Arctic

  1. “There is no indication of how large these proposed LNG tankers are…”

    …but luckily I was browsing a Russian internet forum earlier today and came across the general arrangement plan for the icebreaking LNG carriers they are now building in South Korea for the Yamal LNG project. The drawing is from 2013, but the main dimensions are final and I’m quite sure the general design is close to what they are actually building at DSME:

    —diagram deleted at the request of DSME–Chuck—

    At 299 m long and 50 m wide, these RMRS Arc7 ice class ships will be the largest icebreakers ever built. Utilizing the double acting ship concept and the power of three 15 MW Azipod propulsion units, they will be capable of breaking ice up to 2.1 m thick when sailing stern first and penetrate deep pressure ridges without ramming. In total, 16 such ships will be built to transport natural gas from the gas fields in the Russian Arctic.

  2. No indication this is LNG, but an interest in the route. From the German Navy blog “Marine Forum”:

    “04 October, CHINA, Civilian cargo ship YONG SHENG, operated by China Ocean Shipping (COSCO), has become the first Chinese merchant ship to complete journey from Europe to China via the Arctic Northern Sea Route.”

    • Yong Sheng looks like a relatively small general cargo ship. There were some photographs from the transit in MarineTraffic.

      By the way, the first LNG ship (Ob River) sailed through the Northern Sea Route in 2012, carrying gas from Norway to Japan. It was escorted by two Russian nuclear-powered icebreakers, Rossiya and Vaygach.

      After Ob River had reached open water, the Russian icebreakers turned back and escorted our ship through the NSR to Europe. It took ten days from Wrangel Island to Kirkenes, Norway.

      Our captain, after observing Rossiya stopping in a ridge field:
      – Why have they stopped?
      The Russian pilot, with thick russian accent:
      – They are switching to unlimited power mode.

      Nice…

      • @Chuck, true. Considering how aggressively China has been moving to the international shipping market in the past years, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were among the first to take full advantage of the NSR with ice-strengthened tonnage and perhaps some kind of special contract with the Russians. Of course, they are also very good at calculating profit margins, so if we’re not seeing Chinese ships in the Arctic in the coming years, it’s unlikely that others will follow.

      • As far as I know, there are no official limits, but there are some shallow areas along the coast. For example, if the ship’s draft exceeds 12 m (39 ft), it can’t sail from the East Siberian Sea to the Laptev Sea via the Sannikov Strait. Instead, the ship would have to venture further north and go around the Anzhu Islands, risking more difficult ice conditions.

        However, if the Sannikov Strait is anything like the Kara Strait (“Kara Gate”), it could as well be that even normal traffic is routed around the islands at times when the ice in the strait is too ridged for normal traffic to pass through. Last time I was in the north, our convoy of four icebreakers (one nuclear, three conventional) and one cargo ship went around the northern tip of Novaya Zemlya because the direct route to the Kara Sea was literally closed by ice.

        Anyway, I would assume that if the ice conditions were known to be particularly difficult, a deep-draft vessel would either not be allowed to transit the Northern Sea Route at all or the Russians would charge premium and escort it individually (as opposed to being part of a convoy) because further north there would be greater risk of the cargo ship getting stuck and needing towing, cutting free etc.

        However, I would consider the beam limit imposed by the icebreakers (34 m for Project 22220) to be a more significant limit on the Northern Sea Route.

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