Novatek and Rosatom have agreed to establish a joint venture that would build, finance and operate a fleet of LNG-powered icebreakers. The fleet would be utilised to ship LNG from Novatek’s existing Yamal project in Ob Bay in the Russian High Arctic and the company’s planned second export scheme, Arctic LNG 2, also earmarked for Ob Bay.
Existing Rosatom icebreaking and ice-class vessels, operating under the Rosatomflot banner, already assist LNG shipping operations at Novatek’s Yamal plant at the port of Sabetta. The terminal’s dedicated service fleet comprises two icebreaking tugs, two ice-class tugs and a port icebreaker due for commissioning later this year.
Rosatomflot’s large, nuclear-powered icebreakers are also available to escort Yamal LNG carriers navigating the Northern Sea Route (NSR) along Russia’s Arctic coast.
During the construction of the Yamal plant, Rosatomflot stepped up its offering to Novatek in the winter months of November through to June when the Arctic ice cover is at its thickest. To assist the steady flow of supply ships carrying equipment to Sabetta, the operator made available a shallow-draft nuclear-powered icebreaker and two diesel-engine icebreakers.
Yamal LNG commenced operations in December 2017 when the first of four liquefaction trains at Sabetta was commissioned. The trains have an aggregate LNG production capacity of 17.4 mta. A fleet of 15 ice-class Arc7 icebreaking LNGCs is being built at Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering for charter to Novatek to lift Yamal cargoes.
The first tranche of five of these specialist 172,000-m3 ships is now in service and the second tranche of five has commenced delivery, to tie in with the start-up of Yamal Train No 2 in August 2018.
The Arc7 LNG ships can sail through ice up to 2.1 m thick on a continuous basis. However, these vessels are not permitted to sail eastbound from Sabetta to the principal LNG markets in Asia during the winter months without the aid of a nuclear-powered Rosatomflot icebreaker escort.
Due to the high cost of these icebreaker escorts, eastbound LNG shipments from Sabetta during the November-June winter season are limited to the very beginning and end of the period and depend on ice conditions pertaining at the time.
In addition to the 15 Arc7 icebreaking LNG carriers, Novatek is building a secondary 11-ship charter fleet comprising conventional LNG carriers and those of a lower ice class.
These vessels are being utilised to load cargoes at Sabetta when there is little or no ice cover, usually in the short summer season and predominantly for westbound shipments to Europe. They also receive cargoes transhipped from the Arc7 vessels at the earliest opportunity, enabling not only the icebreaking LNGCs to optimise their time in high latitudes for which they were designed but also delivery to the final customer in an expedient manner.
When all four Yamal trains are in service later in 2019, Sabetta will load LNG cargoes at its plateau levels of 220 ships per annum, or one LNG carrier every 40 hours.
Novatek is seeking to streamline the logistics of its LNG deliveries, including from the planned Arctic LNG 2 scheme which will have an output similar to that of Yamal. Subject to a final investment decision early 2019, the first LNG from the Arctic LNG 2 project would begin to flow in late 2022 or early 2023.
The drive to optimise fleet efficiency includes providing dedicated transhipment terminals as close to the western and eastern ends of the NSR as possible. This will enable the Arc7 ships to maximise their time in Arctic waters and reduce the vessel newbuilding costs associated with the Arctic LNG 2 project by allowing as many as possible of the 15-ship Yamal fleet to also serve the second scheme.
LNG-powered icebreakers will assist in the drive towards year-round operation of LNG carriers along the Northern Sea Route
Inhouse icebreaker fleet
Having its own fleet of LNG-powered icebreakers would enable Novatek to extend eastbound LNG deliveries to Asia well into the winter season, at lesser cost than having to utilise Rosatomflot’s nuclear-powered icebreaker escorts.
At the same time, the inclusion in the joint venture of Rosatomflot, the acknowledged experts in Arctic icebreaker operations and supplying specialist crews, provides a vital ingredient for the safe and efficient shipment of Ob Bay export cargoes.
The LNG-powered icebreakers would bunker at the Yamal plant. Although no details of the new icebreakers were given when Novatek and Rosatom announced their intended co-operation in providing the fleet, the two companies have been investigating using such ships for some time.
The initial focus has been on constructing four LNG-powered icebreakers, each with the ability to develop 40 MW of propulsive power. By way of comparison, Rosatomflot’s existing Arktika-type nuclear-powered icebreakers have a propulsion capacity of 54 MW.
Rosatomflot is also building a new fleet of three 60-MW nuclear-powered vessels, known as the IB60 class, while 120-MW icebreakers are on the drawing board. The three IB60 ships are due for delivery between May 2019 and 2021.
Novatek aims to have its first LNG-powered icebreaker in service by 2022 and for the remaining three ships to be delivered thereafter at one-year intervals. The main bidder for the order is likely to be Vyborg Shipyard, in co-operation with Arctech Helsinki Shipyard in Helsinki.
The two facilities are part of Russia’s United Shipbuilding Corporation. There is also a possibility that Admiralty Shipyard and/or Baltzavod could assist in the construction work.
Irrespective of where the LNG-powered vessels are ultimately built, Rosatomflot is confident that between the LNG-powered icebreaker quartet, the IB60 trio and the existing Arktika-class nuclear-powered icebreakers, it will be well on its way to providing a year-round capability for LNG carriers sailing the NSR route from Ob Bay to Asia, eastbound laden and westbound in ballast.