In A First, Russian Tanker Sails Through Arctic Without Icebreaker

London: A Russian tanker has travelled through the northern sea route in record speed and without an icebreaker escort for the first time, reported UK daily the Guardian.

The $300m Christophe de Margerie carried a cargo of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Hammerfest in Norway to Boryeong in South Korea in 19 days, about 30 per cent quicker than the conventional southern shipping route through the Suez Canal.

The tanker was built to take advantage of the diminishing Arctic sea ice and deliver gas from a new $27m facility on the Yamal Peninsula, the biggest Arctic LNG project so far which has been championed by the Russian president, Vladimir Putin.

On its maiden voyage, the innovative tanker used its integral icebreaker to cross ice fields 1.2m thick, passing along the northern sea section of the route in the Russian Arctic in a record six-and-a-half days.

Environmentalists have expressed concern over the risks of increased ship traffic in the pristine Arctic.

As well as using conventional fuel, the Christophe de Margerie can be powered by the LNG it is transporting, reducing its sulphur oxide emissions by 90 per cent and nitrous oxide emissions by 80 per cent when powered this way.

The northern sea route between Siberia and the Pacific is still closed to conventional shipping for much of the year. But the Christophe de Margerie, the first of 15 such tankers expected to be built, extends the navigation window for the northern sea route from four months with an expensive icebreaker to all year round in a westerly direction.

In the route’s busiest year so far, 2013, there were only 15 international crossings but the Russian government predicts that cargo along this route will grow tenfoldby 2020.

This link with the Pacific reduces its need to sell gas through pipelines to Europe.