A natural gas tanker carrying LNG for Russian company Novatek made a 24h pitstop near Honningsvåg raising questions about the adequacy of Norwegian sanctions. The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not reply to a request for comment in time for publication.
On 15-16 April 2023 the LNG carrier Vladimir Voronin, coming from near Murmansk, anchored for around 24 hours off the coast of Honningsvåg in North Norway.
The vessel flies the flag of the Bahamas carrying Russian LNG from the Yamal peninsula for Novatek – a Russian natural gas company sanctioned by the United States.
Vladimir Voronin previously held a certification from the Russian Maritime Register but withdrew this registration, thus avoiding a ban from Norwegian ports. As of 8 April 2023, all vessels certified by the Russian Maritime Register, regardless of the flag under which the vessel is registered and regardless of size, are no longer permitted to dock in Norway’s ports.
The vessel also holds protection and indemnity insurance from Assuranceforeningen Skuld, an international marine insurance company based in Oslo, Norway.
While Vladimir Voronin’s stopover is not in violation of Norwegian sanctions, it highlights the interconnections of international logistics and energy flows and Norway’s role in them. The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs indicated last week that it would provide comments on the matter but did not reply in time for publication.
The EU last month discussed a proposal to ban the import of Russian LNG into the bloc, raising questions if sanctions would extend to the LNG carriers themselves.
Using Honningsvåg as service station
According to Norwegian Coast Guard officials, the ship’s stop was not due to an emergency situation or technical difficulties but was related to scheduled “crew changes, supplies and possibly other minor services.”
The vessel departed from the Kildin Island anchorage off the coast of Murmansk 12 hours earlier, raising further questions as to the need for crew exchanges and provisioning to take place in Norwegian waters.
The selection of Honningsvåg for a stopover appears to be a holdover from visits by Yamal LNG carriers in North Norway in the past. The area was previously used for ship-to-ship transfers of LNG during 2018-2020 in cooperation with Tschudi shipping.
Even at the time – before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine – facilitating this activity in Norway’s waters drew strong criticism from the US government and a firm rebuke from Norwegian officials.
“Because the ship is too large for the harbor in Honningsvåg, they anchored up in the same area where they previously had ship-to-ship transfer of LNG,” explained Corporal Jonny Karlsen, Spokesperson for the Norwegian Joint Headquarters.
A senior adviser for the Norwegian Coastal Administration, Ruben Alseth, elaborated that the permit for ship-to-ship transfer of LNG received by Tschudi in 2019 remains valid today. It expires in 2024.
Tschudi Shipping stressed in an email correspondence with HNN that “[they] have not pursued any Russia related activities since the invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022,” and have no knowledge of the activity in question.
It remains unclear if any Norwegian companies provided services to Vladimir Voronin during its call at Honningsvåg.
Changing registrations to stay legal
In the past Vladimir Voronin held a certification by the Russian Maritime Register. However, with apparent foresight that vessels certified by Russia would face sanctions – including their inability to purchase vital P&I insurance – the vessel’s owners withdrew its certification with the Register in 2022.
Instead it is now solely registered with Bureau Veritas, a French certification company.
If the vessel still held its Russian registration, the visit on 15-16 April would have been illegal based on the latest round of Norwegian sanctions.
The vessel operates under a 25 year time charter for Yamal Trade Pte. Ltd., a wholly-owned subsidiary of Yamal LNG, of which Novatek is the majority owner. It exclusively transports LNG for Novatek from the Yamal LNG project. The charter runs until December 2045.
Thus, while the vessel is not owned or operated by a Russian person or entity, it solely provides its services to Novatek – a Russian company which has been sanctioned by the United States as part of the sanctions regime against Russia.
As one expert on international shipping remarked to HNN off the record: “Shipping is very good at bypassing regulations.”