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LNG World Shipping

Winter season tests the mettle of Yamal and Baltic LNG carriers

Tue 22 Jan 2019 by Mike Corkhill

Winter season tests the mettle of Yamal and Baltic LNG carriers
Seen here at the Manga terminal, Coral EnergICE is the first LNG carrier to be built to the FSICR ice class 1A Super standard

LNG carrier operations in the Russian High Arctic and the Baltic Sea have extended the operational envelope of ice class gas shipping

Over the past 15 months Novatek has rewritten the record book covering ice class LNG carrier operations. The company is bringing LNG from the Russian High Arctic by means of a fleet of 15 icebreaking LNG carriers (LNGC) built by Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering in Korea.

Constructed to the Arc7 standard set down in the Russian Maritime Register of Shipping (RMRS) ice class rules of 2007, the ships are being utilised by Novatek to transport LNG from the Yamal LNG export terminal at Sabetta on Ob Bay to customers worldwide. The Arc7 rating is the highest ice class yet awarded to a merchant ship. When operating in the stern-first, icebreaking mode, the ‘double-acting’ Yamal LNGCs are able to proceed through ice up to 1.8 m thick on a continuous basis.

Long Yamal winter

Sabetta lies approximately 525 km north of the Arctic Circle and endures a 65-day polar night, from late November to late January, when the sun does not appear above the horizon. First-year ice begins to form and thicken in the vicinity of the Yamal terminal around mid-October and remains in place through the following June. Sabetta’s fleet of dedicated port icebreakers are kept busy for over seven months of the year, keeping the channel to the terminal’s two LNG jetties clear.

In December 2018 Train No 3 at Yamal exported its first cargo, 12 months earlier than scheduled. Train 3 has commenced producing LNG well ahead of the delivery of the final tranche of five ships planned for this, the third of project’s three original 5.5 million tonnes per annum (mta) liquefaction units.

 “Sabetta’s fleet of dedicated port icebreakers are kept busy for over seven months of the year, keeping the channel to the terminal’s two LNG jetties clear”

Novatek also has a secondary charter fleet of 11 LNGCs to work on the Yamal scheme. The majority of the vessels in this additional fleet are built to the lesser Arc4 ice class, while a handful are conventional, non-ice class LNG carriers.

Ships in the secondary fleet are employed in less onerous ice conditions, such as westbound runs from Sabetta to Europe. They are also utilised for the onward transport of cargoes that are transhipped from the Arc7 ships, by means of ship-to-ship (STS) transfers, at the earliest possible opportunity. Such operations enable the Arc7 ships to optimise their time in the ice – the working environment for which they were designed.

Novatek’s fleet utilisation strategy for the Arc7 ships is to send cargoes westbound to Europe during the winter heavy ice cover season. Westbound shipments in Arc7 ships, even in the Arctic winter months of November to June, do not require costly icebreaker escorts, whereas such escorts are stipulated for Arc7 ships travelling east from Sabetta to Asia during this period.

In the summer months, when the ice cover thins, the Arc7 LNGCs are able to travel eastbound along the Northern Sea Route (NSR) in the Russian Arctic without the need for a dedicated icebreaker escort. Asia is the principal market for LNG and the ability of these specialised ships to make direct eastbound deliveries during the summer months, including to transhipment points, is set to be well utilised.

Novatek is also planning to build its own fleet of up to four LNG-powered Arctic icebreakers. The availability of these in-house vessels to escort LNGCs sailing to Asia would enable the eastern NSR sailing season to be extended.

Logistics challenges

Because the start-up of the three Yamal liquefaction trains is running ahead of the delivery schedule of Arc7 ships required to lift the cargoes, Novatek is placing great store this winter in the earliest possible transhipment of westbound cargoes from the Arc7 LNGCs to the secondary fleet, to maximise the time that the available icebreaking vessels spend in the ice.

Novatek has secured the Tschudi Group to manage a busy schedule of STS transhipment operations at four open-sea locations in two fjords near Honningsvåg in northern Norway. The first transfer, from the 172,600 m3 Arc 7 Vladimir Rusanov to the 170,200 m3 Arc4 Pskov, was carried out in November 2018.

The inaugural Vladimir Rusanov-to-Pskov LNG transhipment in November 2018 is set to be the first of up to 160 such STS transfers in Honningsvåg’s fjords this winter

Novatek and Tschudi are expecting to handle up to 160 STS transfers at Honningsvåg by the end of June 2019, enabling the early transhipment of 11.7M tonnes of Yamal LNG. STS operations at Honningsvåg enable the Arc7 ships to reduce their Sabetta-Europe roundtrip voyage distances by 2,000 km.

Another initiative is underway that holds the potential to improve Yamal LNG delivery logistics. In November 2018 the Russian Transport Ministry, which is responsible for setting the NSR navigation rules, proposed some amendments to the regime that would give Arc4 and Arc5 vessels more scope for work in ice.

Arc4 and Arc5 vessels are currently prohibited from operating on the NSR between 30 November and the end of the ice season each year. Under the proposed change, such ships would be able to travel on the route with the assistance of an icebreaker escort, even during the winter months. If approved, the new provisions could enter into force by May 2019.

Proposed Russian Transport Ministry changes to the MSR rules would permit icebreaker-escorted Arc4 LNGCs to travel on the route year round (image: Dynagas)

Baltic rules set the pace

The Finnish-Swedish Ice Class Rules (FSICR), governing shipping operations in the Baltic Sea, began evolving in the 1890s and were the maritime industry’s first set of standards governing the construction of ships operating in ice-bound waters. The ice class of ships sailing in the Baltic is based on a vessel’s classification notation, and all the major class societies have implemented FSICR in their own rules.

Large parts of the Baltic Sea east of the Kattegat are icebound during the winter months and the thickest winter ice cover to be found in the region is that in the northern reaches of the Bay of Bothnia. Compliance with FSICR ensures that, among other things, ships engaged in trade to Finnish and Swedish ports in the Northern Baltic Sea are able to navigate safely and efficiently in these waters on a year-round basis, irrespective of the prevailing ice cover.

In 2018 the Manga LNG receiving terminal was commissioned at Tornio in Finland, the northernmost Bay of Bothnia port. Boasting a 50,000 m3 storage tank, Manga is the largest LNG import terminal in the Nordic countries.

LNG is delivered to the Tornio terminal by the 18,000 m3 Coral EnergICE. Delivered in January 2018, Coral EnergICE is the first LNGC to be built to the FSICR ice class 1A Super standard, roughly equivalent to Arc5 in the Russian rules. The icebreaking capabilities of the Anthony Veder-owned LNGC enable it break through ice up to 1 m thick on a continuous basis and to service the northern Baltic, including the Manga terminal, throughout the year.

“In November 2018 the Russian Transport Ministry proposed amendments that would give Arc4 and Arc5 vessels more scope for work in ice”

Coral EnergICE is serving on a long-term charter to Gasum, a stakeholder in the terminal along with Outokumpu, SSAB Europe and EPV Energy. The ship is the largest of a growing fleet of coastal LNGCs and LNG bunker vessels (LNGBVs) active in the Baltic Sea region. All the other vessels in this fleet are built to the FSICR Ice Class 1A standard.

As of mid-January 2019, an ice cover of 20-40 cm was reported in the Tornio area. Sweden and Finland make three icebreakers available to assist vessels sailing in the Bay of Bothnia during the winter season, one of which is the LNG-powered Polaris, owned by Arctia Icebreaking Oy. The dual-fuel icebreaker bunkers at the Manga terminal and its two LNG fuel tanks provide 800 m3 of capacity and 10 days of autonomous operation on gas in typical winter conditions.

Baltic bunker vessels

The Baltic LNG bunker vessel fleet, comprising the 180 m3 Stockholm cross-harbour bunker vessel Seagas and the 5,800 m3 Coralius, jointly owned by Veder and Sirius Shipping, has recently been augmented by the entry into service of the 7,500 m3 Kairos.

Built for Babcock Schulte Energy, a 50/50 Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement (BSM)/Babcock International joint venture, the distinctive, superstructure-forward LNGBV, has been taken on long-term charter by Blue LNG. Hamburg-based Nauticor holds a 90% stake in Blue LNG, while Klaipedos Nafta (KN), the Lithuanian energy firm, controls the remaining 10%.

Built to ice class 1A, equivalent to Arc4 in the Russian rules, Kairos utilises the LNG reloading terminal developed by KN in the Lithuanian port of Klaipeda as its home base. Commissioned in early 2018, KN’s shoreside reloading terminal features five 1,000 m3 cylindrical pressure vessel storage tanks, road loading bays and a marine jetty.

KN also has on charter the ice class 1A 170,000 m3 floating storage and regasification unit (FSRU) Independence, moored across the harbour in Klaipeda. LNG for the KN shoreside terminal is sourced from this regas vessel, and Kairos is also able to load LNG from the FSRU by means of STS transfers for direct delivery to Blue LNG customers.

In recent years, Nauticor has been successful in winning a number of long-term LNG bunkering contracts for gas-fuelled ships operating in the Baltic. To meet its obligations, the company can provide not only an STS fuelling service utilising Kairos, but also truck-to-ship (TTS) bunkering at a number of ports.

A notable recent STS agreement involves Finland’s ESL Shipping. Kairos will bunker ESL’s new handy-size, dual-fuel bulk carriers Haaga and Viikki in the Swedish port of Oxelösund. Each of the two 25,600 dwt, ice class 1A bulkers is fitted with a 400 m3 LNG bunker tank positioned on the main deck aft of the accommodation superstructure. The bulkers will service the ports of Luleå and Oxelösund in Sweden and Raahe in Finland, ensuring that the steelmaker SSAB is kept topped up with the raw materials it requires.

Nauticor is set to utilise the Swedish coastal LNG receiving terminal at Nynäshamn, 55 km to the north of Oxelösund, as a source of LNG for the ESL bunkering operation. Nynäshamn, with a 20,000 m3 storage tank, is operated by AGA, a sister company of Nauticor within the Linde Group.

AGA also owns Seagas, the small LNGBV that bunkers the 57,000 gt, LNG-powered passenger ferry Viking Grace in Stockholm harbour virtually every day. Over the course of a year, Seagas supplies approximately 23,000 tonnes of LNG fuel to Viking Grace.

Nauticor is also contracted to supply LNG bunkers for a pair of dual-fuel passenger ferry newbuildings that Rederi AB Gotland is putting into domestic service on routes linking the Swedish mainland with Visby on the island of Gotland. Once again, Kairos will be able to load LNG at the Nynäshamn terminal for STS fuel transfers to the 32,000 gt ferry pair.

Each of the ice class 1A vessels has been provided with a pair of Type C bunker tanks, offering a total capacity of 570 m3. The first of the two ferries, Visborg, is scheduled to enter service in February 2019, while Thjelvar will commence operations a few months later.

In January 2019, Gazprom’s new 170,000 m3 LNG vessel Marshal Vasilevskiy was put into position as the Baltic Sea’s second FSRU, after Independence. Stationed at a fixed marine berth with its own breakwater 5 km offshore in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, the regas vessel is built to the Arc4 Russian ice class standard. This rating enables the ship, when navigating in open water, to proceed through ice up to 0.8 m thick on a continuous basis.

Gazprom is also behind a recent newbuilding contract for an Arc4 LNGBV newbuilding placed with the Keppel Singmarine yard in China. Gazprom will take the 5,800 m3 vessel on charter on completion in Q4 2020 and put it into service fuelling gas-powered ships in the Baltic Sea.

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