LNG Carrier Completes Roundtrip Winter Voyage to China via NSR

Vladimir Voronin
Arc7 Vladimir Voronin in the East Siberian Sea December 2022. (Source: Atomflot)

Arc7 LNG Carrier Vladimir Voronin completes a roundtrip voyage to China in just 42 days in the heart of winter highlighting how Russia’s goal of year-round exports to Asia is becoming increasingly feasible. A second LNG carrier, Boris Vilkitsky, is also currently on its return leg from China.

Russia’s goal and one of President Putin’s top priorities in the Arctic to achieve year-round navigation on the Northern Sea Route (NSR) for the export of LNG and oil to Asia is becoming increasingly feasible.

The combination of highly-capable Arc7 LNG carriers, nuclear icebreakers, and weakening Arctic sea ice now allows for semi-regular deliveries of liquefied natural gas along the eastern parts of the NSR for most of the year. 

Novatek’s Arc7 carriers have now completed numerous voyages during the winter months of December, January and February. They have also conducted test voyages in May and early June. This leaves only the months of March and April – when ice conditions along the route remain most formidable – during which no routine LNG deliveries Arc7 voyages have occurred. 

With additional nuclear icebreakers of the Arktika-class becoming available over the next 2-3 years as well as the upcoming even more powerful Leader-class icebreaker, the route will likely see this “late winter” gap of March and April close in the coming years. 

The next iteration of the Arc7 LNG carriers will feature more powerful engines and an optimized hull design making it even more capable to pass through even the thickest winter ice along the route. The first updated Arc7 carrier – constructed at Russia’s Zvezda shipyard – may enter service in 2023 so the route may see a late-winter voyage as early as March or April 2024.

Also read

More regular and faster

In addition to the semi-regular nature of winter transport along the route, the speed is especially noteworthy. 

The Arc7 LNG carrier Vladimir Voronin departed from the port of Sabetta on 1 December 2022, traveling along the NSR with destination Caofeidian (Tangshan). It delivered its cargo of around 170,000 m3 of LNG just 20 days later. A comparable journey via the Suez Canal would take around 45-50 days on average.

The vessel then began its return voyage on 21 December, 2022 arriving back at Sabetta 2 ½  weeks later on January 13. In total the round trip voyage took 42 days, compared to 90-100 days from Sabetta to China via the Suez Canal route.

Nuclear icebreaker Arktika on the NSR January 2023. (Source: Atomflot)

Difficult ice conditions added a few days to the return leg, though Atomflot, Russia’s operator of nuclear icebreakers and administrator of the NSR, states that even during times of icebreaker escorts the average speed was in excess of 10 knots

According to Rosatom, the Voronin received an icebreaker by nuclear icebreaker Arktika in the eastern part of the Laptev Sea north of the New Siberian Islands. Further escort was provided in the Kara Sea in the area of the Russky Island and the Vilkitsky Strait.

Vladimir Voronin
Approximate route of the Vladimir Voronin from Sabetta to Caofeidian (Tangshan) and return to Sabetta. (Source: Author’s own work)

LNG flows to China and Europe

A second Arc7 LNG carrier, the Boris Vilktisky, also delivered LNG to China and as of this past weekend was approaching the port of Sabetta to take on new cargo. Similarly, the Voronin received new LNG and sailed along the Norwegian coastline in the direction of western Europe.

The deliveries of LNG to Europe from the Russian Arctic have continued unabated and have reached new highs during recent months. Despite a number of current deliveries to China, the bulk of Russian Arctic LNG will flow to Europe this winter.

Also read