Two tankers set course for thick ice as part of experiment on Northern Sea Route

LNG tanker Christophe de Margerie (IMO 9737187) is sailing eastwards towards China along the Northern Sea Route and the Nikolay Zubov (IMO 9768526) has entered the Bering Strait at the beginning of a westward journey, in what is the first mid-winter operation of its kind. The two commercial ships will cross each other’s paths in one of the most icy parts of the Arctic sea route, reports the Barents Observer.

The venture has been in the planning stage for some time, with Russian Arctic developers announcing it frequently, but on January 5th it was underway. The Christophe de Margerie set out from LNG terminal Sabetta heading for Chinese port Dalian in China. Just after Christmas the Nikolay Zubov left Dalian en route to Sabetta.

The Christophe de Margerie is expected to reach Dalian on January 26th, while the Nikolay Zubov is due to arrive in Sabetta on January 16th.

Not only is this a first for two commercial ships conducting parallel voyages in opposite directions, but also they are doing it without the help of icebreakers.

In July 2020 Sovcomflor chairman Sergey Frank promised that ice-class tankers would be sailing on the Northern Sea Route in January and February. He said that the trial voyages would take place in cooperation with natural gas producer Novatek and nuclear power company Rosatom.

Last year one of the ships in this trial, the Christophe de Margerie travelled the route in May – a voyage more than a month earlier than the previous record.

Voyages across the eastern part of the Northern Sea Route have taken place in January before, in 2019 by tanker Boris Sokolov (IMO 9817315), and by Yamal LNG carrier Boris Davydov (IMO 9768394). Those two ships sailed from east to west without icebreakers. In January 2018 LNG carrier Eduard Toll (IMO 9750696) made the same voyage.

There are 15 vessels that serve the Yamal LNG project. They can carry up to 70,000 tons of liquefied nature gas, and all have ice class Arc7, which enables them to autonomously break through up to 2,1 metres of sea ice.

In 2020 more than 32m tons of goods were shipped on the Northern Sea Route, most of it LNG. Russia has said that it wants to increase volumes on the route to 80m tons by 2024, rising to 130m tons by 2035.

2016-built, Cyprus-flagged, 128,806 gt Christophe De Margerie is owned by Zelitiko Shipping Co Ltd care of manager OAO Tamal LNG of Moscow, Russia. ISM manager is SCF Management Services Dubai. It is entered with UK Club on behalf of Zelitiko Shipping Co Ltd (Cyprus).

2019-built, Cyprus-flagged, 122,806 gt Nikolay Zubov is owned by Hai Kuo Shipping 1606 Ltd care of manager Dynagas Ltd of Athens, Greece. It is entered with Standard Club (European division) on behalf of Hai Kuo Shipping 1606 Ltd.

2018-built, Cyprus-flagged, 39,982 gt Boris Sokolov is owned by Hai Kuo Shipping 1721 Ltd care of manager Dynacom Tankers Management Ltd of Athens, Greece. It is entered with North Of England Club on behalf of Hai Kuo Shipping 1721 Ltd.

2018-built, Cyprus-flagged, 122,806 Boris Davydov is owned by Hai Kuo Shipping 1605 Ltd care of manager Dynagas Ltd of Athens, Greece. It is entered with Standard Club (European Division) on behalf of Hai Kuo Shipping 1605 Ltd.

2017-built, Bahamas-flagged, 128,975 gt Eduard Toll is owned by TC LNG Explorer I LLC care of manager Teekay Explorer I LLC of Hamilton, Bermuda. It is entered with Standard Club (International Division) on behalf of TC LNG Explorer I LLC.