Operating in temperatures as low as -50°C, a fleet of 15 Arc7 ice-class LNG carriers are underpinning the success of the Yamal LNG project in the Arctic Circle
Russia’s Yamal LNG announced in December the operational start of the LNG carrier Yakov Gakkel, the last of 15 Arc7 ice-class LNG carriers designed and built specifically for the Arctic project, ensuring year-round supply to customers in Asia and Europe. Yakov Gakkel lifted the 354th LNG cargo from the project at the port of Sabetta, destined for buyers in China.
In August, Yamal LNG marked a milestone when Yakov Gakkel’s sister vessel, Vladimir Voronin, loaded the 273rd cargo at the terminal, pushing the total LNG shipped from the project to 20M tonnes since it opened in December 2017.
Located above the Arctic Circle in the estuary of the Ob River about 2,500 km from Moscow, Yamal LNG is in the middle of a remote region that is frozen for seven to nine months a year and where winter temperatures can drop as low as -50°C. Yamal LNG uses gas resources from the South-Tambeyskoye field in the Russian Arctic. Investors in the project are Russia’s Novatek with a 50.1% interest, Total (20%), CNPC (20%) and the Silk Road Fund (9.9%).
With a nameplate capacity of 17.4 mta of LNG produced by its first three LNG trains and the planned Train 4, Yamal LNG is served by vessels operated by Sovcomflot, Dynagas, Mitsui OSK Lines (MOL) and Teekay and its partners. The Yamal LNG Joint Venture between Teekay LNG Partners and China LNG Shipping owns Yakov Gakkel and its five sister ships, Eduard Toll, Rudolf Samoylovich, Nikolay Yevgenov, Vladimir Voronin and Georgiy Ushakov.
Yamal LNG Joint Venture’s six LNG carriers were temporarily ensnared by sanctions imposed by the US government on two subsidiaries of Chinese shipping company COSCO for using its owned tankers to trade oil with Iran. In September, the US government had imposed sanctions on COSCO Shipping Tanker (Dalian) Co and COSCO Shipping Tanker (Dalian) Seaman & Ship Management Co.
COSCO Dalian is a direct 50% shareholder in China LNG Shipping (CLNG). While CLNG was not listed on the OFAC order or otherwise directly implicated in any sanctioned activity, by virtue of being 50% owned by COSCO Dalian, it qualified as a ‘Blocked Person’.
CLNG, in turn, owns a 50% interest in Teekay LNG’s Yamal LNG joint venture, qualifying the Yamal LNG Joint Venture as a ‘Blocked Person’ under OFAC rules.
In October, Teekay LNG announced a swift resolution to the OFAC issue, under which COSCO Shipping Energy Transportation Co, Ltd had completed an ownership restructuring on ‘arms-length terms’ that resulted in China LNG Shipping no longer being qualified as a ‘Blocked Person’.
Strengthened hull for icebreaking
All 15 of the Arc7 ice-class LNG carriers are based on icebreaking vessel technology firm Aker Arctic’s Double Acting Ship concept, capable of operating independently without icebreaker escort along the Northern Sea Route. Built by South Korea’s Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering (DSME), Yakov Gakkel has an overall length of 299 m, beam of 50 m and draught of 11.7 m, with a strengthened hull and a double hull protecting the engineroom. High tensile strength steel has been used to reduce the ship’s weight – 125,000 tonnes when loaded – and ensure a full load draught of 12 m, according to Aker Arctic.
By opting for a scaled-down ice-breaker bow instead of a bulbous bow, the ship can sail more easily in open water and in light ice (up to 1.5 m thick). In thicker ice, the LNG carrier operates astern, allowing it to sail through 2.1 m-thick ice. Numerous tank tests were conducted to confirm the vessel’s performance and manoeuvrability on the open sea and in different pack ice conditions.
A total of six hybrid diesel-electric Wärtsilä 50 DF engines provide 45 MW of thrust, the highest amount of thrust ever installed on an LNG carrier. The ship can reach a speed of 19.5 knots in open water and 5 knots when proceeding astern in 1.5 m-thick ice.
Each LNG carrier is equipped with NO96 GW membrane technology developed by France’s GTT. Reinforced plywood boxes filled with glass wool provide insulation. With regards to the vibrations associated with operating in ice, glass wool behaves better over time than perlite, which is normally used. The ship is not equipped with a bilge keel, a first for an LNG carrier. This decision was approved after studying the sloshing of LNG in tanks subject to harsh sea conditions.
Manoeuvrability in ice
Critical to the performance of the Arc7 ice-class LNG carriers are their Azipod propulsion systems. Unveiled almost 30 years ago in Helsinki, Finland, the Azipod propulsion system is an electric drive motor located inside a submerged pod outside of the ship’s hull. The podded propulsion unit can rotate 360 degrees, supplying increased manoeuvrability, particularly crucial for vessels operating in ice-infested waters.
ABB has delivered electric propulsion systems to over 90 icebreakers or ice-going vessels, with a propulsion power of up to 45 MW. Options for Azipod propulsion span 1 MW to 22 MW.
ABB said that as a result of its ability to cut fuel consumption by up to 20% compared to traditional shaft line propulsion systems, Azipod technology has played a key role in developing the company’s strong position for environmentally friendly electric propulsion.
“The sheer scale of this project and the size of the Azipod units involved make this a milestone for ABB,” says ABB Marine & Ports director Juha Koskela. “The fuel and emissions-saving capabilities of Azipod electric propulsion have made it the technology of choice for sensitive arctic conditions for almost 30 years.”
ABB also supplied turbochargers, generators, switchboards, transformers, electric drives and propulsion control systems as part of its work scope.
With the delivery of Yakov Gakkel, there is now the potential to utilise all 15 Arc7 ice-class tankers to optimise Yamal LNG’s logistics both westbound and eastbound in 2020, particularly by increasing the use of the Northern Sea Route.
Built in less than six years, the fifteen 172,600-m3 capacity vessels have opened the Northern Sea Route to commercial gas shipping and significantly expanded the navigation period in the direction of the Asia-Pacific region, ensuring year-round transportation of gas to customers westwards.
Arc7 ice-class LNG carriers: at a glance
Length: 299 m
Beam: 50 m
Draught: 11.7 m
Capacity: 172,000 m3
Propulsion: (3) 15 MW Azipods
Icebreaking capacity: 2.1 m level ice (astern)
Vessel name Delivery Operator
Christophe de Margerie 2016 Sovcomflot
Boris Vilkitsky 2017 Dynagas
Fedor Litke 2017 Dynagas
Eduard Toll 2017 Teekay
Vladimir Rusanov 2018 MOL
Rudolf Samoylovich 2018 Teekay
Vladimir Vize 2018 MOL
Georgiy Brusilov 2018 Dynagas
Boris Davydov 2018 Dynagas
Nikolay Zubov 2018 Dynagas
Nikolay Yevgenov 2019 Teekay
Vladimir Voronin 2019 Teekay
Georgiy Ushakov 2019 Teekay
Yakov Gakkel 2019 Teekay
Nikolay Urvantsev 2019 MOL