Yury Trutnev, Deputy Prime Minister and Presidential Envoy to the Far Eastern Federal District held a meeting on the progress of an experimental eastbound voyage along the Northern Sea Route during the autumn-winter navigation season.

The event was attended by Leonid Mikhelson, Chairman of the NOVATEK; Sergey Frank, Director General of Sovcomflot; Igor Tonkovidov, CEO - Chairman of the Sovcomflot; Vyacheslav Ruksha, Rosatom Deputy Director General and Director of Directorate of the Northern Sea Route; and Vladimir Panov, Rosatom Special Representative for Arctic Development.

"The Northern Sea Route can and must become Russia's most important transport artery, cutting the sea route from Europe to Asia by more than a third. In 2020, almost 33 million tons of cargo were transported along the Northern Sea Route, including more than 18 million tons of liquefied natural gas. Over the past five years, freight traffic has increased almost fivefold. But the potential of the Northern Sea Route is much greater. In accordance with the decree of the President of the Russian Federation, the traffic along the Northern Sea Route must increase to 80 million tons a year by 2024. This task can be achieved by increasing the period of Arctic navigation," Yury Trutnev said, opening the meeting.

Transit navigation in the eastern Arctic usually ends in November and does not reopens until July. However, on 5 January 2021, the Sovcomflot shipping company with Rosatom participation launched the latest high-latitude voyage in the history of Arctic navigation for NOVATEK. Currently, the LNG tanker Christophe de Margerie, with its new capabilities for moving in ice conditions, is in the final stages of a unique experimental roundtrip on the Sabetta (Russia) - Jiangsu (China) - Sabetta route. It is navigating under the guidance of the nuclear-powered icebreaker 50 Let Pobedy going west from Cape Dezhnev.

For the first time ever, a large-capacity cargo vessel sails along the Northern Sea Route in February. The tanker successfully crossed the waters of three seas - the Chukchi, East Siberian and Laptev Seas. Such a late experimental cargo voyage was possible because of many years of systematic work done by Sovcomflot and NOVATEK for the development of the Northern Sea Route transit potential. Since 2010, the companies in cooperation with Rosatom, have been consistently implementing a program of experimental cargo voyages along the Northern Sea Route. The voyages are aimed at improving shipping in the challenging climatic, ice conditions of the Arctic Sea basin, and further expanding the navigation period required to organize safe year-round marine transportation of liquefied natural gas from the Gulf of Ob in the Kara Sea to the east.

Together with FSUE Atomflot, the companies have done a great deal of preparatory work, carried out a detailed assessment of all possible risks associated with the difficult ice conditions, and defined safe maneuvering criteria for the caravan.

"A significant contribution to the further development of year-round navigation along the Northern Sea Route will be made by the commissioning of 15 gas carriers currently under construction at Russia's Zvezda shipyard for our new project, Arctic LNG 2. Designed to provide year-round navigation along the eastern sector of the Northern Sea Route, the vessels will have higher icebreaking performance than the Yamal LNG carriers. In addition, we expect that two new nuclear-powered icebreakers of the LC-60 type will be commissioned by the end of 2022. This will enable us and our partner Atomflot to ensure year-round transportation of LNG along the eastern sector of the Northern Sea Route from the Arctic LNG 2 project, whose first processing line is scheduled to be launched in early 2023," he said.

According to Igor Tonkovidov, CEO and Chairman of the Management Board of PJSC Sovcomflot, the preliminary results of the transition prove that the navigation window in the eastern part of the Arctic can be significantly expanded. Of course, it could be realized as there is effective icebreaker assistance, as well as the use of Arctic ice-class transport vessels and compliance with the highest safety navigation standards. The experience gained by the company in navigation in the Arctic sea basin indicates that the operating conditions in the region require additional serious competencies and the highest disciplines from the crew, and in the foreseeable future the need for specialists of this level will significantly increase. In the period from 2023 to 2025, Sovcomflot plans to commission 18 new icebreaking gas carriers for the Arctic LNG 2 project, which will create over a thousand new jobs for Russian sailors. In 2020, Sovcomflot began implementing a large-scale training program for the required personnel among its own officers. We also consider it expedient to intensify the training of such specialists within the framework of the departmental system of maritime professional education," he said.

As reported by Sergei Gen, Master of the LNG carrier "Christophe de Margerie", the voyage was going in a normal mode, the ship was in good condition, the crew of 33 was healthy. "We are proud that our crew was honored to complete this historic voyage. For the first time, a tanker of this size sails the eastern sector of the Arctic in February. The ice situation along the route is assessed as difficult, but within the expected," he commented.

In addition to the nuclear-powered icebreaker, the Marine Operations Headquarters (MOH) of FSUE Atomflot also provided information and navigation support along the route of the gas carrier was also provided. According to Vyacheslav Ruksha, Deputy Director General - Director of the Northern Sea Route Directorate of the State Atomic Energy Corporation Rosatom, by the beginning of the summer-autumn navigation of 2020, an automated control system (ACS) of the Marine Operations Headquarters has been put into operation. It collects and analyzes information on hydrometeorological, navigation and ice conditions in the water area of the Northern Sea Route around the clock. In real time, navigators are provided with personal navigation recommendations and the most up-to-date information about all navigational hazards along the route of ships in the Northern Sea Route. In 2020, MOH of FSUE Atomflot performed 11 ice-free pilotages in the waters of the Northern Sea Route.

At present, FSUE Atomflot has completed the development of a technical assignment for the creation of the Headquarters of the Unified Navigation Control Center (HUNCC) on the basis of the automated control system for navigation of ships on the Northern Sea Route. It will optimize the routes of vessel traffic and the placement of nuclear icebreakers in the waters of the Northern Sea Route. The ultimate goal of its implementation will be the transition to automatic routing in the Arctic region, which will increase its logistic component, ensure maximum safety of vessel traffic and affect the commercial attractiveness of the Northern Sea Route.

"Nowadays, there is a medium type of ice conditions in the Northern Sea Route. The maximum ice thickness on the route of the caravan reaches up to 1.5 meters. There are extensive hummocky areas. Despite this, the caravan confidently continues to move in the waters area of the Northern Sea Route in the direction of the port of Sabetta. The average speed since the beginning of the pilotages is 7 knots," Dmitry Lobusov, Master of the "50 Let Pobedy" vessel informed from the broadside of the nuclear icebreaker. He thanked the Marine Operations Headquarters, the Master and crew of the Christophe de Margerie LNG carrier for their high professionalism, as well as the NOVATEK and Sovcomflot companies for their trust and high training of specialists for their assistance.

"This voyage brought us one step closer to implementing the plans of the country's leadership to increase navigation and increase cargo traffic on the Northern Sea Route. I am confident that the Northern Sea Route is competitive, that changes in the ice situation and the improvement of marine technologies create new conditions for its development. The Northern Sea Route will bring more and more attention, the number of transit transport will increase, and this is important in the interests of developing the country's economy, in the interests of our Arctic territories," Yuri Trutnev summed up the meeting results.