Opening a new chapter in Russian Arctic trade
The Samsung-built Shturman Albanov class of shuttle tankers signals a further development in Russian Arctic maritime capabilities, writes David Tinsley.
A new generation of diesel-electric shuttle tankers built to a unique, bespoke design for year-round operation in the Russian Arctic impacts directly and considerably on the country’s capabilities in developing oil shipments from the Yamal peninsula to export markets.
A series of 42,000dwt vessels specified to Arc7 ice class criteria was entrusted by SCF Sovcomflot to Samsung Heavy industries to meet the requirements of a long-term contract with Russian oil and gas corporation Gazprom Neft.
The tankers and their crews must fulfil the exacting task of taking on crude oil at the offshore loading terminal near Cape Kammeny, in the Gulf of Ob, for shipment westward along the Northern Sea Route to a floating storage and offloading (FSO) unit moored in Kola Bay, near Murmansk. From the FSO, oil is transferred to crude carriers for onward transportation overseas.
The lead vessel in the series, Shturman Albanov, joined the SCF fleet in August last year, and undertook the first large-scale shipment of oil derived from the remote Novoportovskoye field via the new Arctic Gate (Vorota Arktiki) offshore terminal the following month, loading a 34,000t cargo for Murmansk. Second-of-class Shturman Malygin was handed over in October, and the third ship was put into service during December as the Shturman Ovtsyn. Three further tankers of the design are in hand at Samsung’s Geoje yard.
Shturman Albanov also opened a new chapter for the industry as the first to receive a Polar Ship Certificate from classification society the Russian Maritime Register of Shipping (RS). The certificate was issued on December 22, and confirms compliance with the requirements of the Polar Code, which was implemented on 1 January 2017. Each of the new vessels is dual-classed with RS and Lloyd’s Register (LR).
“The new tankers of Sovcomflot are the first in shipping history that will provide transportation of hydrocarbons from Ob Bay (Gulf of Ob) in year-round navigation,” observed the company’s chief executive Sergey Frank. The development of the Novoportovskoye oil, gas and condensate field ranks among a raft of industrial schemes seen as key to sustained economic advance in Russia’s Arctic region. Sovcomflot has long experience in the high latitudes, and the skills of seagoing personnel in arduous, year-round ice conditions have been honed through the Varandey and Prirazlomnoye projects.
TOUGH IN ICE
Hardened, equipped and engineered for year-round duty in the harsh Arctic environs, and employing the Finnish-conceived double-acting principle and propulsion arrangements, the new shuttle tankers can independently negotiate ice up to 1.8m thick by sailing stern-first, and up to 1.4m thick by proceeding bow first.
The initial trio are the first newbuild vessels to meet LR’s provisional rules for the classification of stern-first ice class ships. The new breed is able to transit ice channels previously cut by nuclear icebreakers, but without requiring icebreaker accompaniment, as do existing Arc5-category tankers, which have a significantly smaller cargo intake capacity than the 38,000 tonnes that can be loaded by the Shturman Albanov type.
Operations can be maintained in temperatures down to -45˚C. Passage from Novy Port-Arctic Gate to Murmansk is northward out of the Gulf of Ob, into the eastern Kara Sea, and through either of the straits linking the Kara and Pechora seas (Karskije Vorota or Yugorskiy Shar), and onward into the Barents Sea.
In relation to their tonnage, the shuttle tankers are of wide beam (34m), and have a comparatively shallow draught. The loaded draught has been limited to 9.5m, so as to allow much larger cargoes than before to be brought across the shoals of the Gulf of Ob, which is covered with ice from October to July. So as to receive oil at the offshore terminal, the ships are fitted with a special bow loading station.
The twin Azipod steerable units at the stern transform 22,000kW of power into propulsive thrust, affording both the requisite capability to negotiate heavy ice and drifts and maximum manoeuvrability, potentially enabling a 360-degree turn by the ship on its axis.
Compliance with LR’s stern-first ice notation has been achieved by various measures including the extent of stern shoulder ice strengthening, best practices for navigation bridge watch layout and visibility, and consistent interpretations of international regulations when running stern-first through ice.
While the ships’ core trading remit lies in western Siberian waters and the western end of the Northern Sea Route, the design’s capabilities were given wider expression when the latest addition to the fleet, Shturman Ovtsyn, made a passage along the eastern extent of the Arctic seaway.
BERING STRAIT CONVOY
The Sovcomflot tanker joined a convoy in the Bering Strait on 21 December, and covered 2,400 nautical miles to the Gulf of Ob, in the Kara Sea, before sailing independently to her regular loading point, the Arctic Gate terminal, on 3 January. The convoy included the module carrier Audax, and was escorted by Atomflot’s potent nuclear-powered icebreaker 50 Let Pobedy.
The power station-type plant in each of the Shturman Albanov trio is based on four main ABB generators of the AMG 0900 series driven by MAN medium-speed diesels. Two of the aggregates are rated at 9,333kVA with 18V32/40 prime movers, and two are 7,000kVA sets with 14V32/40 engines. All four diesels were manufactured by South Korean licensee STX.
The gensets deliver current at high voltage (6.6kV) to two main switchboards, feeding the propulsion system and all shipboard consumers. Each of the two Azipods has a power rating of 11,000kW, served by respective 12,650kVA transformers.
Once all six tankers have been brought into operation, oil transport volumes could rise to around 450,000t per month, enabling Gazprom Neft to despatch up to 5.5m tonnes of oil from the Novoportovskoye field every year. The vessels introduce nearly twice the loading capacity of tankers used hitherto, plus enhanced productivity and efficiency through the design’s ability to cut return-trip times due to the particular ice-going and propulsion features.
Construction of the three tankers commissioned to date was financed by Sberbank CIB. The US$340m credit facility agreement marked an important milestone in expanding the participation of Russian institutions in the financing of capital-intensive shipbuilding projects.
The Russian-flag vessels are under the technical husbandry of SCF Management Services (St Petersburg), with commercial management by London-based Sovcomflot (UK).
Sovcomflot’s pioneering trio of 70,000dwt Arctic shuttle tankers, the Vasily Dinkov series, also came from Samsung. The Arc6-class, diesel-electric vessels were brought into service in 2008, to transport crude oil from the Varandey terminal in the Pechora Sea for transhipment at Murmansk. Two further 70,000dwt shuttle tankers, Mikhail Ulyanov and Kirill Lavrov, were constructed in Russia by Admiralty Shipyards of St Petersburg to serve Gazprom’s Prirazlomnoye project in 2014.
A further business link between the shipowner and Gazprom Neft is expressed in the use of the latter group’s marine lubricants in the two Prirazlomnoye-deployed shuttle tankers and in the new Shturman Albanov series.
Shuttle tanker construction is the province of only a small number of yards worldwide, with Samsung ranking as the premier builder by virtue of an approximate 40% share of the total number of such vessels ordered to date. The South Korean company is also an important contributor of Arctic vessel technology across a broad sphere of the Russian maritime industries, as a consequence of the memorandum of understanding signed with United Shipbuilding Corporation (USC) in 2009.
FINNISH DESIGN INPUT
Aker Arctic developed the hull form of the double-acting tankers in cooperation with Samsung Heavy Industries and undertook five weeks of model tests at its ice laboratory near Helsinki. Two alternative designs were evaluated to meet the specific working conditions of the Novy Port area in the Gulf of Ob.
“During the first testing period, we carried out all the basic performance tests to compare the designs and to make sure they fulfilled the requirements set by Gazprom Neft,” said Aker Arctic project manager Riku Kiili. “The next testing period focused more on operational performance, such as breaking out from the channel, performance in a narrow channel, and ice ridge tests.”
“One key function was to see if the tankers could follow the narrow, curved channel an icebreaker had made. Gazprom Neft wished to have extensive operational testing in addition to testing of the contract performance,” added Kiili. One of the criteria was to break level ice of 1.4m thickness at a speed of 3.5 knots. Aker Arctic had also been retained for the concept design of Sovcomflot’s preceding class of Samsung-built, 70,000dwt shuttle tankers.
THROUGH THE ARCTIC GATE
The Novoportovskoye oil and gas condensate field is by far the most significant in the Yamal region of western Siberia in terms of reserves, and is located about 700km from the national pipeline network. To realise the sea transportation option, oil from the field is carried by 100km of pipeline to the Gulf of Ob. Due to the comparatively shallow depths for sea-going vessel access, the Vorota Arktiki (Arctic Gate) loading terminal has been installed 3.5km offshore.
Production from Novoportovskoye is expected to quickly ramp up to 6.3m tonnes of crude per annum by as early as 2018, with plans for the further development of the field expected to be confirmed before the end of 2017. A new grade of medium-density crude known as Novy Port is derived from the field, and has a lower sulphur content (0.1%) than the Urals blend.
Located off the eastern shore of the Yamal peninsula, and the western side of the Gulf of Ob, the Arctic Gate outlet offers the capacity to load up to 8.5m tonnes per year, allowing year-round shipments via the Northern Sea Route, Russia’s Arctic seaway.
The Arctic Gate terminal is a unique facility, designed to operate under extreme conditions, in a region where temperatures can drop below minus 50degC and with ice reaching thicknesses of up to 2m.
All equipment is fully automated, and a special system provides for a tanker’s immediate disconnection from the terminal in adverse circumstances, while ensuring the hermitically-sealed integrity of both sides of the line. Zero-emissions technology has been employed throughout in mind of the overriding importance of safeguarding the ecology of the Arctic. The terminal incorporates an ice impact protection system.