The ice-class LNG Boris Vilkitsky, which violated the safety rules of the Northern Sea Route last week, was permitted to leave after being detained by the Russian Coast Guard for a week. Questions remain surrounding the enforcement of safety rules along the route.
PAO Novatek the Russian natural gas giant who runs the Yamal Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) project has shed some light on the serious incident surrounding the ice-class LNG ship Boris Vilkitsky. The vessel had entered the Northern Sea Route in gross violation of the safety rules last week and subsequently remained at the Port of Sabetta for nine days. In a statement to investors the company explained that the vessel was allowed to depart and conclude its voyage under icebreaker escort before needing significant repairs in dry dock.
Questions still unanswered
Novatek left unanswered questions about the process surrounding the release of the vessel. A Russian shipping expert, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, explained that political pressure was likely applied to reach an agreement between the authorities and the shipowners and allow the vessel to depart.
As High North News reported, the Boris Vilkitsky, operated by Dynagas LNG Partners, entered the Northern Sea Route (NSR) last week with damage to one of its three azipods motors – a system that combines propeller and rudder in one unit. The malfunction limited the ship’s power output and maneuverability and reduced the vessel’s ice capability from category Arc7 to Arct4 making it illegal for the vessel to travel on the NSR in current ice conditions. The Northern Sea Route Administration called the incident “a threat to the safety of navigation, as well as the protection of the marine environment.”
Detained by Russian Coast Guard
The Boris Vilkitsky arrived in the Port of Sabetta on April 12th to take on 172,000 cubic meters of LNG, a process that usually takes less than 24 hours. The vessel remained just outside the port for more than a week and was detained by the Russian Coast Guard before it was permitted to leave on April 21st under condition of nuclear icebreaker escort. The vessel was escorted by Russia’s most powerful icebreaker 50 Years of Victory, a video shows, and left the waters of the NSR on April 25th. Neither Novatek nor Dynagas responded to initial requests for more details.
After completing its voyage to Montoir, France the vessel will undergo substantial repairs in dry dock, Novatek explained. The vessel’s outage will coincide with a planned two-week maintenance of the Yamal LNG facility. During this time Novatek plans to use LNG from four storage tanks to continue some deliveries using the Boris Vilkitsky’s four sister ships. Currently five ice-class LNG carriers are in service with ten more expected by 2021. Overall the company is ahead of schedule in delivering up to 5.5 million tons of LNG during its first full year of operation.
Urgent Need for Better Safety
This incident has tested the independence of the Northern Sea Route Administration and its ability to effectively monitor and enforce the rules of navigation on the route, shipping experts agree. The fact that the vessel was able to enter Russia’s Arctic waters, travel all the way to Sabetta, and was allowed to depart without apparent repercussions to its owners, shows the urgent need for improved safety rules along the NSR. In addition, the Northern Sea Route Administration is currently caught in an internal Russian dispute between the Ministry of Transport and Rosatom on who should be in charge of administering and developing the NSR in the future.
The Arctic waters dodged a bullet this time, but as this serious safety violation shows, an expedited reorganization of competencies along the route and an agency with a strong mandate for safety are urgently needed, especially as traffic on the route is expected to grow manifold in the next few years.