Possible savior of Nord Stream 2: “Akademik Cherskiy” leaves port in the Far East

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If the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline was stopped, there appears to be a boost for the first time since the introduction of US sanctions in late December. The laying ship “Akademik Cherskiy”, which was proclaimed the only savior when the Allseas ships left the project, is now on its way to … Singapore.

The navigation portal Vesselfinder reported this at the weekend. The layship had previously anchored in the port of Nakhodka near Vladivostok in the Far East. Unlike smaller Gazprom-owned ships, it has a dynamic positioning system that Denmark demands in its waters. Both President Vladimir Putin and Russian Energy Minister Alexander Nowak mentioned the ship in connection with Nord Stream 2 in December when US sanctions demobilized the Allseas ships “Pioneering Spirit” and “Solitaire”.
As the “Akademik Cherskiy” travel destination, the Vesselfinder portal now shows Singapore, several thousand kilometers away from Nachodka. The ship is scheduled to dock there on February 22. At the same time, speculation is fueled that the actual ultimate destination of the ship is the Baltic Sea.

Operation Top Secret

The operator of the ship, Gazprom Fleet, held back when Sputnik asked about the reasons for the trip. The question was also left uncommented at Gazprom headquarters. A spokesman for the Swiss operator of the pipeline, Nord Stream 2, only commented that the company was aware of the speculation about the relocation capacity. However, they will be informed about the plans in good time.

As Sputnik previously reported, Gazprom had the ship with the Nigerian in 2015 Sea Trucks Group bought for about a billion euros just in case Allseas leaves the project. Singapore is no stranger to the ‘academic’: the ship was finished here in 2011. In Nachodka, it was used for the so-called Kirinskoye gas condensate field, the only one in the Russian shelf on which gas with an underwater production complex was part of the project Sakhalin-3 is won. The ship was modernized about half a year ago for more than ten million euros.

However, at the end of December, shortly after the US sanctions against the European laying ships came into force, Gazprom launched a tender for the installation of welding equipment for around 830 million rubles (the equivalent of about 12 million euros). It is the end of January completed Service. The winner will be kept secret. The measure is argued by Gazprom with a further modernization for Sakhalin-3. According to experts, however, the ship is already perfectly equipped for work in the Sakhalin shelf and therefore does not need to be retrofitted in foreign ports.

It is not yet clear whether Singapore is the final destination of the route or a stopover, the leading energy expert from the Russian Foundation for National Energy Security Igor Yushkov commented on Sputnik. Yushkov is certain:

If the “Akademik Cherskiy” had nothing to do with Nord Stream 2, it would not have gone to Singapore.

The ship had already worked successfully on the Sakhalin shelf in recent years. Even if Sakhalin-3 is important for Gazprom in the Chinese market, Nord Stream is a higher priority, the expert said.
Information had recently emerged that the United States may be planning new sanctions against the European companies financially involved in the project as well as against consumers should Russia attempt to complete the missing kilometers of the pipeline in the Baltic Sea. But even that, according to Yushkov, could not be the end of the sanctions policy. It was therefore logical not to specify the Baltic Sea as the end point of the route now.

The Naviportal MarineTraffic has strangely given no information about the route for a day, the expert points out. Because: “The Americans will closely monitor the‘ academician ’to prevent his use for the gas pipeline”. The possible new sanctions are now less likely to harm the project than the possible ban on insurance in foreign waters, said Yushkov. Without insurance, the Russian ships could neither reach the Baltic Sea nor complete the construction work. The Americans have had such an experience in the past.

Would the North Sea route be an option for the “Akademik Cherskiy”? With a view to the spring storms in the Baltic Sea, work on Nord Stream 2 could practically commence towards the end of April, says Juschkow. In contrast, Gazprom still needs a number of icebreakers in the Arctic Ocean. Until then, there was still enough time both for retrofitting and for the trip to the Baltic Sea.

Although the “academic” has a dynamic positioning system, his laying speed is currently only one kilometer per day – six times slower than with “Pioneering Spirit”. It would take the ship around a year to lay the remaining 160 kilometers of the gas pipeline in two cable runs alone. While the director of the National Energy Institute, Sergey Pravossudov, said in a Sputnik conversation that Gazprom could complete the project on its own and that there was no time for new tenders, Yushkov assumes that Gazprom is the flagship of the Russian company for pipeline construction Mezhregiontruboprovodstroy, the “Fortuna”, but keep an eye on. The ship could not automatically change its position depending on the swell, but “maybe further discussions with Denmark will help”. So far, “Fortuna” has managed to lay around 100 kilometers of pipes for Gazprom for the development of the Kirinskoye gas condensate field and for the Sakhalin-Khabarovsk-Vladivostok gas pipeline. For several months she has been anchored in Mukran, part of the Sassnitz ferry port, on the German island of Rügen in the Baltic Sea.



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