Russian gas producer Novatek plans to send cargo from its Yamal LNG facility to Asian markets via the Northern Sea Route (NSR) in early May with the help of an ice-breaker, sources told Bloomberg.
The cargo would become the earliest-ever shipment of liquefied natural gas to Asia, beating last year’s record by almost two weeks and paving the way for a record navigation season this year.
The exact timing of the LNG shipment will depend on weather conditions and the thickness of the ice, according to officials. “The possibility of such a voyage in May is under discussion,” said Nikita Sekretarev, spokesperson for Russia’s Sovcomflot shipping company.
Stretching more than 5,000km between the Barents Sea and the Bering Strait, the NSR is the shortest passage between Europe and Asia. Its eastern part is usually shut for navigation for several months at the start of the year due to thick ice, which limits shipment potential.
Novatek sent an eastbound LNG cargo via the NSR with ice-breaker support in late May in 2020, which was the earliest start to the navigation season in the area to date. Shipments continued to Asia through January, making it a record long navigation season in the eastern Arctic.
Earlier this month, Novatek sent two LNG tankers (‘Christophe de Margerie’ and ‘Nikolay Yevgenov’) to China through the NSR. Industry officials said that the vessels don’t need ice-breaker support as the current conditions in the eastern Arctic are mild. Nevertheless, the tankers will use an ice-breaker on their return to Russia across the passage in February.
According to Sovcomflot, which owns the ‘Christophe de Margerie’, a cargo ship has never made a February voyage in the eastern Arctic. The planned February return voyage is part of “the systemic efforts to gradually extend transit navigation in the eastern sector of the Arctic,” said Sekretarev, adding: “In the future, the goal is to set up safe year-round navigation” across the Northern Route.
Russia wants to turn the NSR into a major trade artery between Europe and Asia. Last year, 33 million tons of freight were transported using the Arctic route.
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