Two new powerful icebreaking supply vessels, owned by Gazprom Neft, are playing a critical role in the logistics of transporting crude oil from fields above the Arctic Circle
The development of the Novoportovskoye field on the Yamal Peninsula in the Arctic Circle is a key part of Russian oil producer Gazprom Neft’s strategic plans. In 2018, 9.9M tonnes of oil equivalents were produced at the Arctic field — a 40% increase over the previous year.
Getting the oil from the field to European consumers has some complex operational and technical challenges though. Oil produced at the field is sent via a 100 km pipeline to the Arctic Gates terminal. Six specially designed Arc7 ice-class shuttle tankers load oil via a single-point mooring system at the terminal, which is an 80-m tall structure about 3 km offshore in the Gulf of Ob.
Once the oil is loaded to the Shturman-series ice-class shuttle tankers, it is transported to Murmansk via the Northern Sea route for shipment to the Umba floating storage and offloading vessel moored in Kola Bay. The Umba is a permanently moored VLCC with a total cargo capacity of around 300,000 tonnes that can accommodate the simultaneous berthing of vessels on both sides. Its on-board infrastructure makes possible the intake, storage and transhipment of oil, and its full and timely customs and border clearance, as well as bunkering operations for shuttle-tankers and transporters.
The Umba floating storage and offloading terminal in Kola Bay (source: Gazprom Neft)
Shturman-series tankers complete more than 200 trips from the Arctic Gates oil offloading terminal to Murmansk a year, the majority of which are undertaken in challenging ice conditions.
The Arctic Gates terminal is designed for year-round operation under the extreme climatic conditions that are found in the Arctic: temperatures can drop below −50°C, and ice can be up to two metres thick and last for up to nine months of the year. With intense tanker traffic the partially refrozen ice rubble around the terminal can become several metres thick, reaching almost to the bottom of the sea.
Keeping the oil moving
To support its shuttle tanker operations in these extreme operating conditions, Gazprom Neft ordered a pair of powerful icebreaking supply vessels, the Aleksandr Sannikov, and sister vessel, Andrey Vilkitsky, from Russia’s Vyborg Shipyard, part of United Shipbuilding Corporation, for delivery in 2018.
The company has placed an emphasis on the development of the region as part of its 2030 strategy and Gazprom Neft managing director Vadim Yakolev says the new class of icebreaking supply ships plays a critical role in that vision: “It is important for us to increase logistic capacities. Having our own icebreakers is a guarantee of the uninterrupted and efficient operation of the Arctic oil transportation scheme, which creates new prospects for further development of fields in this region.”
Added Gazprom Neft chairman Alexander Dyukov: “Logistics are playing the vital role here, making it possible to continue shipping and transporting oil through the Kara Sea, regardless of the weather conditions. Building these icebreakers was an essential precondition to the further effective development of Novy Port.”
“Typical icebreakers run into the ice and break it with their weight. The hulls of the Aker Arctic-designed vessels cut through the ice, which is then chopped by their propellers”
As is the case with Sovcomflot’s Yevgeny Primakov – winner of this year’s Offshore Support Journal Support Vessel of the Year – the Aleksandr Sannikov and Andrey Vilkitsky are well equipped to operate in the harsh, icy conditions of the Arctic Circle. The flagship of the two icebreaking supply vessels, Aleksandr Sannikov, began operating at the Arctic Gates terminal last July and was joined by sister vessel, Andrey Vilkitsky on 24 January. Both vessels are based on the Aker ARC 130 A design developed by Finland’s Aker Arctic. The icebreaking supply vessels are a further refinement of Aker Arctic’s design of the Polaris, the most powerful icebreaker operating under the Finnish flag.
Polaris has an overall length of 110.5 m, beam of 24 m, and design draught of 8 m. Classed by Lloyd’s Register with a notation of PC 4 Icebreaker (+), the Polaris has four main generating sets that produce a total of 21,000 kW and one harbour generator with an output of 1,168 kW. The Polaris is a dual-fuel vessel, burning both low sulphur marine diesel oil (MDO) and LNG. It has two 6,500 kW Azipod azimuthing thrusters in the stern and one 6,000 kW unit in the bow. It has an open water speed of 17 knots, can break 1.8 m of ice at 3.5 knots or 1.2 m of ice at 5 knots and navigate two metres of brash ice channel at 10 knots. It has accommodation for 24.
By contrast, the two sister vessels are longer and slightly beamier than the Polaris, with an overall length of 121.7 m, beam of 26 m and draught of 8 m. They have the capability to break ice up to 2 m thick and 30 cm of snow while steaming at 2 knots. They also have additional ice strengthening and an ice class of Icebreaker8, which is equivalent to IACS PC 2 notation.
Similar to the Polaris, Aleksandr Sannikov and Andrey Vilkitsky each have a diesel-electric propulsion system that consists of three Azipod azimuthing propulsion units, two in the stern and one in the bow, supplying the vessels with excellent manoeuvrability during icebreaking operations. In open water each vessel’s 1,800 kW transverse bow thruster provides dynamic positioning class 2 level capability — critical when operating year-round in close proximity to other vessels, tankers and the loading terminal.
The icebreaking supply vessels each have four main generating sets — which only burn low sulphur MDO — producing a total output of 27,000 kW.
Besides icebreaking and ice management, Aleksandr Sannikov and Andrey Vilkitsky are equipped for a wide range of important secondary duties while on standby at the offshore terminal. Each has a powerful external fire-fighting system that meets the most demanding class notation from the Russian Maritime Register of Shipping (RS).
Each vessel also carries multiple workboats and oil spill response equipment and has dedicated storage tanks for recovered oil. The open aft deck served by a 26-tonne crane can be used to transport containers and other cargo. The forward helideck can accommodate large Russian helicopters such as the Mi-8.
“According to our forecasts, demand for the transportation market on the Northern Sea Route will increase by one-third by 2030,” explains Mr Dyukov. “The development of our own Arctic fleet will allow the company to maintain leadership in the Russian Arctic for the long-term prospect.”
Alexander Sannikov and Andrey Vilkitsky are designed to provide up to 40 days of operation at extreme temperatures of -500C. The onboard computers monitor the icebreaker life support, start the generators, synchronise the equipment, control the emergency modes, adjust temperature and operational conditions on all decks of the vessel. Digital control of the icebreaker improved the efficiency of the crew — in order to perform similar functions on other icebreaking vessels a twofold increase in crew is necessary.
In the open water, the icebreaking supply vessels can reach speeds of up to 16 knots (25 km/h) and make a 360-degree turn in under a minute. The powerful icebreaking capability of each vessel is comparable to nuclear-powered icebreakers. This is facilitated by the special hull shape of the icebreaking supply vessels and their three thrusters, located in pair in the aft and one unit in the fore part of the vessel. Typical icebreakers run into the ice and break it with their weight. The hulls of the Aker Arctic-designed vessels cut through the ice, which is then chopped by their propellers.
The vessels also each have their own fire station, hospital, helideck, emergency-rescue boats, powerful winch and crane with capacity 26 tonnes. Besides tanker escort, the vessels can also transport cargo, provide towing assistance and participate in rescue operations.
Most equipment installed on the icebreaking supply vessels was provided by Russian manufacturers. Zvezdochka Ship Repair Center, part of United Shipbuilding Corporation in Severodvinsk, equipped the vessel with its bow propulsion unit. Other shipboard equipment, such as navigation system, bridge and generators, were supplied by Russian companies.
New icebreaking anchor handlers
Russia oil company Rosneft has also ordered four multi-purpose icebreaking anchor-handling supply vessels that will be built at the Zvezda Shipyard in the Bay of Bolshoy Kamen, Primorsky Krai in Russia. Zvezda Shipyard is part of the Far Eastern Shipbuilding and Ship-Repairing Centre (FESSC), which is owned by Rosneft.
Construction began last October on the first of the series of vessels that will have an Icebreaker 7 class notation. The vessels, designated as IBSV 10022 designs, will be delivered at the end of 2019 and during the first half of 2020.
The multifunctional IBSVs will perform the transportation of goods to/from offshore drilling rigs and production platforms, anchor handling, ice-breaking operations, ice situation control, rescue, oil spill response, fire-fighting, towing of jack-up offshore platforms and other large offshore structures and carriage of ISO containers on their main decks.
Back in September 2017, Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Zvezda shipyard for the keel-laying ceremony for the four vessels.
"Today, it is important to start accomplishing the main long-term strategic task and to launch production of full-fledged medium- and large-capacity vessels and marine technology as soon as possible," President Putin said. "I know that a long-term plan for utilising the enterprise’s production facilities up to 2035 has already been approved."
Mr Putin added that the four ice-class multifunctional supply vessels "will strengthen the company’s potential and that of the national fuel and energy sector, as well as promote the development of the Northern Sea Route."
Zvezda’s technology partner, Dutch shipbuilder Damen, is assisting in the development of the icebreaking supply ships.
One of the features of the IBSV 10022-class vessels will be podded drive propulsion units, which will offer several benefits to the operator, such as increased propulsion efficiency and manoeuvrability and reduced fuel consumption and exhaust emissions
For the shipyard, podded drives reduce installation time and allow for flexible machinery arrangement and a simplified hull form and structure.
The podded drives will be built at a plant at the Zvezda shipyard. Construction of the facility began in November 2017. The Sapphire Pod Drive Plant project is managed by a joint venture of Rosneft and General Electric.
The ice-class-range of Seajet pods are available for ice-going vessels up to Icebreaker 7 class notation, with a power range from 7.5 MW to 15 MW. They are a joint development of General Electric and AETC Sapphire.