Russian Court seizes four western-owned tugs at Sakhalin

Late in April a Russian arbitration court seized control of four tugs that are owned by the Svitzer towage company – a subsidiary of Denmark-based Maersk – which had been operating under a long-term contract to provide services at the Sakhalin-II oil and gas project, in eastern Russia.

Maersk had been seeking to end the services as part of the company’s intention to withdraw from all operations in Russia, a consequence of the country’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

The four Robert Allan designed heavy-duty ice-class tugs, built in 2007, were operating under charter to Svitzer Sakhalin – a Russian subsidiary. That company in turn had an agreement to provide marine services for the operators of the Sakhalin project. In 2020 that contract was extended, going into effect in November 2020 and meant to run for an extra 10 years.

The vessels comprised the Svitzer Sakhalin (IMO 9369241), Svitzer Aniva (IMO 9369253), Svitzer Busse (IMO 9389605) and Svitzer Korsakov (IMO 9389590). The first two were built by ASL Shipyard of Singapore, while the latter pair were built by Admiralty Shipyard in St. Petersburg, Russia. Each is 590 dwt.

At the time, Svitzer said it it had 58 Russian crewmembers and nine onshore staff, supporting the mooring of more than 1,800 gas carriers with the four tugs and two mooring boats.

In August last year the Russian government took control of the Sakhalin-II project. Svitzer’s service contract was transferred to the new operator. Russian reports claimed that Svitzer had announced plans to transfer the four tugs out of Russia and that it had re-registered them away from the Russian flag, and that on April 17th 2023 Svitzer Sakhalin had attempted to invoke force majeure, enabling it to suspend the service contract. The Russian operator of the oil and gas project promptly took Svitzer to court, arguing that the loss of the four tugs could jeopardize production activities at the facilities.

Russia’s Kommersant has now reported that on April 24th  the court temporarily arrested the four tugs and gave control of them to a third-party company. The court also granted the right to continue to operate the tugs in Prigorodnoye. Svitzer apparently has until May 18th the right to file an appeal, seeking to regain control of the tugs and end the service contract.

Maersk said that “we believe the situation regarding the tugs is untenable and efforts to resolve the matter are ongoing.” It also noted that all of Svitzer’s employees in Russia had resigned.

2007-built, Russia-flagged (Equasis, Marine Traffic) 663 gt Svitzer Sakhalin is recorded as owned by Svitzer Sakhalin BV care of Svitzer Asia Pte of Singapore. Manager and ISM manager is Svitzer Sakhalin Terminal of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, Sakhalinskaya oblast, 693007, Russia. As of May 10th vessel was “stopped” at Prigorodnoye anchorage.

Details are the same for the Svitzer Aniva, Svitzer Busse and Svitzer Korasakov.