Russian tanker blades previously impossible path through warming Arctic

Moscow – A Russian natural gas tanker has completed an experimental round trip along the Northern Sea Route, the first time the path across the Arctic has been forged at this time of year. The voyage of the tanker Christophe de Margerie through the ice is the last visual indicator of climate change in the delicate region.

The tanker, operated by the shipping company Sovcomflot, returned to the remote Russian gas terminal at Sabetta on February 19, bringing Russia one step closer to its year-round commercial shipping goal through the hot Arctic.

NOAA scientists say the Arctic is changing at a …


The LNG (liquefied natural gas) tanker left the Chinese port of Jiangsu on January 27 after delivering its cargo. He entered the Northern Sea Route, which runs through the northern coast of Russia, a few days later near Cape Dezhnev, where he encountered the Russian nuclear icebreaker 50 Let Pobedy (50 years of victory). Together they completed the 2,500-nautical-mile journey through the ice in 11 days and 10 hours.

The ship managed to complete the first leg of the journey from Russia to China without an icebreaker. Both trips broke winter sailing records due to climate change in the Arctic, allowing passage through thinner ice. Using the Northern Sea Route allows carriers from Russia and other countries to avoid a much longer journey south through Europe, the Middle East and all of South Asia, saving millions of dollars.

The deepest ice found by the ships was about 5 feet thick. However, the ships did not find an accumulation of old ice for several years on the route, and meteorologist and journalist Eric Holthaus called it a clear indicator of “a climate emergency”.

Last May, the Christophe de Margerie became the first large-capacity cargo ship to complete a transit to the east of the Northern Sea Route, two months earlier in the year than the voyage has traditionally taken place.

The Russian tanker Christophe de Margerie is seen crossing the Northern Sea Route in February 2021.


“As a result of the first Northern Sea Route (NSR) voyage completed by Christophe de Margerie in May 2020, as well as the current NSR voyage, navigation in the eastern part of the Arctic practically doubled,” said the CEO of Sovcomflot, Igor Tonkovidov. earlier this month. He noted that for decades the transit route along that segment of the NSR had normally been closed by ice from November to July.

“The Arctic is ours”

Novatek, the company that operates the LNG gas plant in Sabetta, plans to continue the experimental trips east along the Northern Sea Route, with the next one scheduled for this spring, the company chief said, citing the Russian business journal Kommersant.

An illustration from the European University of St. Petersburg shows the North Sea sea route, which a Russian tanker first crossed in the winter of February 2021, and the southern route of the Suez Canal.

European University of Saint Petersburg

Last year, Russia moved nearly 33 million tonnes of cargo along the Northern Sea Route, including more than 18 million tonnes of LNG. Freight traffic along the NSR has increased nearly fivefold in the last five years.

“The route can withstand much more than that,” Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yury Trutnev said during a government meeting last week. He said that according to a decree issued by President Vladimir Putin, cargo traffic along the NSR should increase to 80 million tons per year by 2024.

“One way that goal can be achieved is by expanding the arctic navigation period,” Trutnev said.

To help it achieve its lucrative Arctic ambitions, Russia has been revamping its unique civilian fleet of nuclear-powered icebreakers. Last year Russia unveiled the new flagship of that fleet, the Arktika, is said to be the largest and most powerful in the world.

The nuclear-powered icebreaker Arktika returns to Saint Petersburg on December 14, 2019, after testing.


“Russia’s Arctic attracts many interested in its resources,” Saint Petersburg Governor Georgy Poltavchenko said at the launch ceremony. “But the Arctic is ours, and we have proven it.”

By the end of 2022, Russia plans to launch two more ships of the same series.

Environmentalists have raised concerns about the growing presence of nuclear power in the sensitive Arctic region, which is already plagued by problems related to climate change.

By some estimates, the Arctic has oil and gas reserves equivalent to 412 billion barrels of oil, about 22% of the world’s undiscovered oil and gas.

The largest remaining arctic ice shelf breaks



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