On 25 September 2018, Sovcomflot’s 172,600-m3 icebreaking LNG carrier Christophe de Margerie loaded the 5-millionth tonne of LNG to be produced by Novatek’s Yamal project in the Russian Arctic. The milestone shipment was dispatched only a month after the 4 millionth tonne landmark was passed.
The Yamal LNG plant at Sabetta on Ob Bay commenced operations in December 2017 when the inaugural cargo from the first of four liquefaction trains at the facility was dispatched. Christophe de Margerie, the first of 15 Arc7 ice-class carriers being built for the project, also carried that historic cargo.
Yamal is being provided with three trains of 5.5M mta capacity each and a fourth unit of 0.9 mta. The fourth train will utilise a new liquefaction technology developed by Novatek and the Yamal installation will serve as a testing ground for the concept prior to its larger-scale application in Arctic LNG 2, a second LNG export project the company is planning for Ob Bay.
The second of Yamal’s three 5.5 mta trains loaded its first cargo in August 2018, several months ahead of the scheduled start date. That shipment was carried by another of Sovcomflot’s LNG carriers, the Arc4, 170,000-m3 Pskov.
Pskov is part of a secondary charter fleet of 11 LNG carriers of either conventional build or a lesser ice class that Novatek is establishing. This fleet is being utilised to enable the Arc7 gas carriers to maximise their time in the harsh icy conditions of the Arctic for which they were designed.
Ships in this secondary fleet are being utilised to load cargoes at Sabetta when they are assured of virtually an ice-free passage, such as a westbound voyage to Europe during the summer months, and for taking on board a cargo transhipped from an Arc7 icebreaking LNG carrier at a dedicated, non-Arctic facility at the earliest opportunity.
With two trains now in operation, Yamal is producing LNG at a rate close to 1M tonnes per month. Evidence of the rapidly rising production rate is given by the fact that the terminal loaded its 4 millionth tonne of LNG in late August.
Construction of Train No 3 is also running ahead of schedule and this unit is set to be operational early in 2019. Train No 4 is due to begin producing LNG cargoes late next year.
Sovcomflot points out that Christophe de Margerie and its 14 sister ships are capable of sailing independently through ice of up to 2.1-m thick and their Arc7 rating is the highest ice class among existing merchant vessels. Christophe de Margerie's propulsion system develops 45 MW of power, comparable to that of a modern nuclear icebreaker.
The Arc7 ships can sail unassisted along the Northern Sea Route (NSR) westward from Yamal all year round, and eastward to Asia for six months of the year, from July to December. Previously, before the Arc7 LNGCs, the summer navigation window for vessels sailing in the NSR’s eastern area was limited to only four months and even then, such transits required the support of icebreaker escorts.
Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering in South Korea is building all 15 Arc7 icebreaking LNG carriers. The ship construction programme, which is co-ordinated with the entry into service of the Yamal liquefaction trains, is at the halfway stage.