As part of the efforts to develop and promote shipping via the Arctic route, Russia’s Sovcomflot has been conducting experimental winter navigation in the eastern part of the Arctic route. The Christophe de Margerie is currently completing her experimental round-trip voyage. For the first time, a large-capacity cargo vessel is transiting the eastern sector of the Northern Sea Route in February. Traditionally, transit navigation along this segment of the NSR ends in November and only resumes again in July, although in May 2020 they also conducted an earlier than normal test run along the route.
The Christophe de Margerie began her voyage on January 5, 2021, at the port of Sabetta, Russia. The LNG carrier safely completed her passage eastward along the Northern Sea Route in 11 days, while navigating the entire length of the NSR without icebreaker assistance. After discharging her cargo at the port of Jiangsu, China on January 27, the vessel sailed back towards Sabetta.
Reaching the eastern end of the Northern Sea Route on February 7, the Arctic class LNG carrier required the assistance of an icebreaker 50 Let Pobedy, which is escorted her back to Sabetta. Sovcomflot reported that the Christophe de Margerie and her nuclear icebreaker escort were approaching the Vilkitsky Strait in the Laptev Sea. They were scheduled to arrive at the port of Sabetta in the Gulf of Ob on the Kara Sea on February 19.
“The voyage is going normally, the vessel is in full working order, and all the 33 crew members are in good health. We consider the ice conditions encountered along the route as challenging, though within the expected parameters,” reported Sergey Gen, Master of Christophe de Margerie. “The biggest issues faced by the vessel were ice pressure and ice hummocks in the Chukchi Sea and the East Siberian Sea, through which we had to move astern (the vessel had to move astern through the ice for about 10 percent of the time she traveled along the Northern Sea Route so far). Throughout the passage along the Northern Sea Route, we have maintained a safe speed under the ice and weather conditions.”
The success of the current voyage Sovcomflot says significantly expands the navigation window in the eastern sector of the Russian Arctic and confirms that year-round safe navigation is possible along the entire length of the Northern Sea Route. Sovcomflot plans to take delivery between 2023 and 2025 of 18 new-generation icebreaking LNG carriers to service the Arctic LNG 2 project.
Development of the Northern Sea Route has been given a high priority in Russia which is promoting it as an alternative route for shipping. In the last five years, the cargo traffic along the NSR has grown almost fivefold, reaching almost 33 million tons of cargo along the Northern Sea Route, including over 18 million tons of liquefied natural gas, in 2020. President Vladimir Putin issued a decree saying that cargo traffic along the Northern Sea route should increase to 80 million tons per year by 2024.