Arctic tanker honour highlights Russia’s pivotal year

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Recognition as the European Marine Engineering Awards ‘2016 Ship of the Year’ for the Sovcomflot Arctic shuttle tanker Shturman Albanov symbolises the transformation underway in Russia’s maritime industry, but events in early May 2017 demonstrate the substance behind the symbolism.

Classed by the Russian Maritime Register of Shipping, the Arc7 ice-class ship received the plaudits at an award ceremony held in Amsterdam at the end of April, recognising its status as the first tanker in the world designed for year-round transportation of hydrocarbons from the Gulf of Ob.

The tanker is also the first ship in RS class to have certification compliant with the Polar Code. Its unique technical characteristics enable effective operation at temperatures up to – 45 °C. Two Azipod azimuth thrusters with total capacity of 22 MW and Double Acting Tanker (DAT) functionality allow the ship to sail through heavy ice up to 1.8 m thick when moving astern. The tanker is the lead ship in six designed to carry crude from the Yamal Peninsula to the port of Murmansk.

EMEA recognition only scratches the surface of a seismic shift in Russia’s energy export capabilities, with developments coming to a head in time for NEVA 2017, to be held 19th to 21st September in St Petersburg, said Matthew White, General Director at organisers Dolphin Exhibitions. The biennial event returns to the new Expoforum Convention and Exhibition Centre.

“EMEA recognition coincided with Shturman Albanov transporting the milestone load via the unique Arctic Gates terminal, Cape Kamenny to take Gazpromneft oil exports from the Novoportovskoye field past 5m tonnes,” said Mr White.

“Some 196 tankers have been despatched since oil transportation from the field first started via the Northern Sea Route in April 2016.”

Yamal’s significance as a mainstay outlet for Russia’s oil and gas exports grows with each passing month, said Mr White.

“Sovcomflot recently took delivery of the world’s first icebreaking LNG carrier, Kristof De Margerie, from Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering (DSME) – the first of a series of 15 ships. Again, Vyborg Shipyard is launching Andrei Vertitsky this month, the second Aker Arc 130 icebreaking support ship for Yamal.”

Senator Vyacheslav Shtyrov, who heads the Arctic and Antarctic Council in the upper chamber of the Russian parliament, recently told TASS that annual cargo deliveries along the Northern Sea Route would reach 80 million tonnes by 2030, “which means we should have a permanent sea route”. The Senator said the task would require even more than the 14 ice breakers experts often suggest will be sufficient to keep Arctic routes running year-round.

Other investments triggered in early May support further development of the shipbuilding and transportation infrastructure nationwide. They include the announcement of Government support for a new Rosneft coastal support base in Murmansk to support oilfield and maintenance services for ships operating along the Northern Sea Route. Rosneft also recently reached an agreement with the China National Chemical Company to jointly build Russia’s largest marine coatings plant at Zvezda.

Digging deeper, Mr White said recent Government action points to 2017 shaping up as a watershed year for Russia’s inland waterway network. Order No 502, in force from the first days of May, makes 400 million roubles available in 2017 as subsidises to cover part of construction costs for domestic shipbuilders, if the replaced tonnage is going for scrap. This is designed to kickstart the ordering to renew Russia’s river shipping fleet, which sustains around 1,000 companies operating 24,000 vessels, with many ships dating to the 1970s. It is reckoned that over 80% of Russia’s sea/river class ships will need to be decommissioned and replaced by 2020 to meet safety regulations.