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First tanker crosses northern sea route without ice breaker (Because it is one anyway!)

August 25, 2017

By Paul Homewood



h/ts Joe Public/Philip Bratby




A commercial LNG tanker has sailed across the colder, northern route from Europe to Asia without the protection of an ice-breaker for the first time.

The specially-built ship completed the crossing in just six-and-a-half days setting a new record, according to the tanker’s Russian owners.

The 300-metre-long Sovcomflot ship, the Christophe de Margerie, was carrying gas from Norway to South Korea.

Rising Arctic temperatures are boosting commercial shipping across this route.


There is only one slight problem – the newly built tanker is actually an icebreaker itself, as Matt McGrath goes on to elaborate:

The Christophe de Margerie is the world’s first and, at present, only ice-breaking LNG carrier.

The ship, which features a lightweight steel reinforced hull, is the largest commercial ship to receive Arc7 certification, which means it is capable of travelling through ice up to 2.1m thick.

On this trip it was able to keep up an average speed of 14 knots despite sailing through ice that was over one metre thick in places.


Popular Science has more details on the project to build another 15 of these icebreaking tankers:

There’s a lucrative shipping route between Europe and Asia that has the potential to cut thousands of miles and months of time off the trip. The only catch: it’s covered with thick, ship-sinking Arctic ice.

Heavy ice blocks the Arctic route from December to July, more than half the year. Even with icebreaking escort ships, few merchant vessels run it.

Now, Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering is building the world’s first icebreaker tankers–16 of them–to carry liquid natural gas (LNG) through the route year-round. LNG tankers today have to be escorted by icebreaking ships that clear the way through the Northern Sea Route.

The Yamal LNG project, run by companies in Russia, France, and China, proposes drilling more than 200 wells in the Arctic to produce 16.5 million tons of LNG per year, supported by Daewoo’s first 16 Arc7 tankers. Year-round, Yamal LNG will ship LNG from the project’s Sabetta port in Russia’s Yamal Peninsula westward to Europe, South America, India, China, and South Korea. For the warmer half of the year, it’ll also ship east from Sabetta to Japan and South Korea.

As Russia leans more heavily on fuel exports and the prices for them drip lower and lower, a dormant 17th-century Russian ambition is coming back to life: to open the Arctic year-round.


French oil company Total, who are involved in the Yamal project also have this:

To transport Liquefied Natural Gas from Yamal LNG, which is located in the Arctic and constitutes one of the world’s biggest LNG projects, Total and its partners have designed a new type of ship: an LNG ice-breaker. This innovative solution allows large shipments of LNG to be transported efficiently and at a steady pace throughout the year and without the assistance of ice-breakers. The ship, which is 300 metres long and has a capacity of 172,600 m3, can sail in temperatures that fall as low as -52°C and in ice thickness up to 2.1 metres. Between December 2016 and 2019, 15 LNG ice-breakers will be commissioned. In this article, we delve into this technological microcosm.



The tankers are certified as Arc7, which is the Russian system of classifying ice breakers and ice strengthened ships. The classification goes up to Arc9 for the strongest ships.

So the fact that the Christophe de Margerie has just made this trip has nothing at all to do with global warming.

It is however a reminder that the French, along with Russia and China, will carry on developing oil and gas reserves, regardless of whatever was agreed at Paris.

  1. Joe Public permalink
    August 25, 2017 1:39 pm

    McGrath also conveniently forgets to mention Russia’s fleet of at least 14 new Russian icebreakers which will significantly strengthen the country’s presence in Arctic waters:

  2. Dung permalink
    August 25, 2017 2:03 pm

    Is there any other country that follows GB in its determination to avoid using even LNG in its drive to decarbonise everything?

    • shivering permalink
      August 25, 2017 6:27 pm


      • Gerry, England permalink
        August 25, 2017 11:15 pm

        South Australia

    • ted permalink
      August 27, 2017 12:55 am

      Gerry ,England has answered South Australia. Whilst that is their position of choice, unfortunately fact has overcome fiction for them and they now will use diesel and back up lithium batteries. Please dont laugh this is true. And eventually they will convert the diesel to gas and pretend its almost never used because sunshine and wind and 4 mins worth of battery backup will do. A state in the throes of deindustrialisation.

  3. NeilC permalink
    August 25, 2017 2:42 pm

    Just like the trees of Yamal, the tanker/ice-breaker is going backwards, isn’t it?

    • August 25, 2017 2:48 pm

      That’s what the pictures show. At least it’s not upside down.

      • dave permalink
        August 25, 2017 5:35 pm

        It is meant to go backwards at 5 knots, when necessary.
        I think these boats are cool.

      • August 25, 2017 7:32 pm

        The ice breaker procedure when in extremely thick ice is to move comparatively rapidly forward against the ice shelf. This causes the bow of the ice breaker to rise up and rest on the ice. Then ice breaker then slowly backs off causing the weight of the forward section of the ship to break the leading edge of the shelf as it backs over it.

        As you can imagine, this is the slow way to break through ice. One circumstance when it is used is when the ice has closed in behind an ice breaker and the forward path is blocked. It may be slow progress but it is faster than getting frozen in for a couple of months.

        If the picture is intended to show it going backwards that would be to show it is one serious icebreaker built to operate independently and put itself in extreme circumstances.

        Not all icebreakers are equal. Some are suitable only for low risk conditions. They need to stay away from serious ice or have bigger or better ice breakers close by. In addition, there are ice reinforced ships which aren’t ice breakers but can move through a field of floating, broken up ice without damage.

      • Gerry, England permalink
        August 25, 2017 11:19 pm

        I thought there was a new design where the bow extends up to the bridge and the ice rides up the bow and breaks up. I am sure I saw one somewhere like that. More efficient.

      • duker permalink
        August 26, 2017 12:19 am

        The backwards process is for thicker ice. The rear hull is shaped to ride over the ice to crack it with the ships weight.

        “Yamal’s 15 icebreaking LNGCs are being built to the double-acting ship (DAS) design developed by Aker Arctic in 2003 for a pair of 110,000 dwt oil tankers for use in Neste Shipping’s Baltic Sea operations. The DAS technology enables ice class vessels to proceed in the conventional bow forward direction in open seas and thin ice but astern in thicker ice and the full icebreaking mode.

        Astern icebreaking operations on the Yamal LNGCs will be assisted by a heavy-scantling, aft hull structure and a podded propulsion system.,daewoo-readies-prototype-yamal-icebreaking-lngc-for-action_43397.htm

    • Nigel S permalink
      August 26, 2017 3:41 am

      Excellent reference to the world’s most important tree, beat me to it!

    • Bloke down the pub permalink
      August 26, 2017 10:21 am

      I think this is the class of vessel that was the subject of an episode in the Impossible Engineering series shown on the Yesterday channel. When travelling at higher speed through thin ice, she’ll travel forward, as this presents the strongest part of the ship that is least likely to get damaged and her ice-breaker bow rides up onto the ice and breaks it in the conventional manner. When the ice is too thick to be broken in this way, she’ll turn around and reverse into the ice and use her specially designed propellers, that are mounted on azi-pull units, to chop the ice up into smaller pieces. This is a slower way of making progress, but means that she can get through thicker ice than would otherwise be the case.

  4. August 25, 2017 2:52 pm

    Matt McGrath fits in well at the BBC (he must have learnt from Harrabin), which is well known for using a headline for propaganda rather than for the truth.

    • dave permalink
      August 25, 2017 3:09 pm

      “Rising Arctic temperatures are boosting commercial shipping…”

      Which is why, presumably, these ships are designed to sail in temperatures as low as minus 52 C, and through ice up to 2.1 meters thick!

      Quite honestly, I would not trust these fools of journos to scape dog mess off the lawn.

      • dave permalink
        August 25, 2017 3:10 pm

        or type “scrape.”

      • dave permalink
        August 25, 2017 3:16 pm

        Of course, it carries Liquified Natural Gas. If the hull is breached no damge is done to the environment since the cargo will vaporize.

      • Joe Public permalink
        August 25, 2017 5:23 pm

        “…… it carries Liquified Natural Gas. If the hull is breached no damage is done to the environment since the cargo will vaporize.”

        On the contrary. As LNG is at a temperature of approx -160°C (-260°F), it’ll help delay Arctic ice melt!

      • duker permalink
        August 26, 2017 12:32 am

        The LNG has its own gas tanks inside the double hull. ( Primary barrier of 1.2 mm thick corrugated/waffled 304L stainless steel) They have more risk from the insulation being breached. These ships used to be steam turbine powered as they used the gas boil off or ‘leakage’ as ships fuel. But these particular vessels are dual fuel compression ignition ( commonly called diesel).
        Its quite interesting how they are filled with the LNC as you can imagine, introducing a liquid at -160C has to be done carefully after tanks were inerted.

      • Nigel S permalink
        August 26, 2017 3:45 am

        Diesel powered, it’s worse than we thought!

  5. CheshireRed permalink
    August 25, 2017 3:43 pm

    The Guardian has also run a similar report with an equally disingenuous headline. Deliberate deception of readers is alive and well on what passes for Fleet St these days, and MSM wonder why they’re losing readers and money hand over fist?

    • August 25, 2017 5:45 pm

      It’s the Arctic equivalent of black steam coming out of power station cooling towers. They spew out deliberately misleading propaganda and then claim anyone who doesn’t buy it is a…[insert insult here].

  6. Terbrugghen permalink
    August 25, 2017 4:24 pm

    My how things have changed in the Yamal penninsula. . . Cabette (Sabetta) is on the eastern side of the Yamal, about halfway to the tip. Here’s a shot of the port. The buildings are pretty new, many built since 2012. . . Notice the Russian Orthodox Chapel smack dab in the middle of the place! I love Google maps.,72.1192064,3a,75y,90t/data=!3m8!1e2!3m6!1sAF1QipOhlzz4u5B2SuBI_KFIKNls9JSzbrE4zM1J8ah-!2e10!3e12!!7i4032!8i2268

  7. August 25, 2017 4:38 pm

    Reblogged this on WeatherAction News and commented:
    The BBC yet again showing their devotion to Orwell 😂

  8. August 25, 2017 4:58 pm

    What about the Manhattan? She was a tanker converted to an icebreaker to tackle the North West Passage.

    • mike fowle permalink
      August 25, 2017 5:57 pm

      I remember the Manhattan. I had a temporary job at the insurance brokers who placed some of the risk in 1969.

    • August 25, 2017 7:45 pm

      The Manhattan was converted by replacing the bow with an icebreaker bow. There are different kinds of ice breaker bows. There is much more to a full scale icebreaker than the bow.

      A modest amount of research provides only glowing accounts of the ship and absolutely no details about just what grade of ice breaker resulted.

      I have offered a little bit of information about various types of icebreakers and their properties elsewhere in this thread.

    • Nigel S permalink
      August 26, 2017 3:53 am

      In their defence this is about the Northeast Passage (where Nelson got trapped in 1773).

  9. Steve permalink
    August 25, 2017 5:05 pm

    The BBC are just like the report about the Chinese armed forces they are mostly master baters

    • Athelstan permalink
      August 26, 2017 9:37 am

      Captain Pugwash and Seaman Staines the whole crew.

  10. August 25, 2017 5:51 pm

    Even the photo caption says it’s a ‘combined icebreaker and LNG tanker’. They must be hoping most people only read headlines.

  11. John F. Hultquist permalink
    August 25, 2017 5:55 pm

    Break the icy surface and let the heat escape. That’s cool !

  12. August 25, 2017 6:11 pm

    BBC Greens are confused
    ‘Stupid Russians spending millions to build a special class of icebreakers
    when everyone knows that if they wait a couple of years the Arctic will be icefree anyway
    .. And why would they build oil/gas vessels for the Arctic , when everyone knows magic wind/solar power will have replaced fossil fuels within that couple of years?
    duh !”

  13. Curious George permalink
    August 25, 2017 6:13 pm

    Horror! Que miseria! It is now easier to navigate Northern waters (if we take the BBC at a face value).

  14. Jack Broughton permalink
    August 25, 2017 6:56 pm

    Another article today in the Times, by Tom Kington, claims that melting glaciers in the Italian Alps are giving up bodies that were buried long ago; some 75 years ago and some up to a hundred years ago. An Italian professor called Mercalli is then wheeled out to say that it is global warming and the glaciers will disappear. Clearly trying to rival Wadham as a doom predictor!

    The simple fact that ought to be obvious to even a scientific illiterate, is that if these people were in the area and caught by avalanches there100 years ago and 75 years ago it must have been substantially ice free then i.e. the present retreat of the glaciers is a cyclic event.

    No idea who or what Tom Kington is but he is a disgrace to truthful reporting and the Times is demonstrating its editorial degeneration..


    • John F. Hultquist permalink
      August 26, 2017 4:10 am

      … people were in the area and caught by avalanches …
      I can disagree without being disagreeable, I hope.
      People often try to cross snow bridges over crevasses and end up deep in the ice, not to reappear for many years.
      They were, of course, in the area.

      • dave permalink
        August 26, 2017 8:35 am

        Sometimes they weren’t “in the area.” Glaciers flow – and flush things out.

  15. August 26, 2017 2:45 am

    Reblogged this on Climate Collections.

  16. Geoff Sherrington permalink
    August 26, 2017 8:18 am

    NeilC beat me with going backwards. Which design suits my home country of Australia, upside down, spinning backwards going down the plug hole or around the North Pole etc?
    Paul, can you please excuse me for a question OT? What is the UK Met Office method for gathering data from the electronic thermometer devices like thermocouple that replaced liquid in glass? We just discovered that our BOM uses one-second readings such as highest or lowest or last in one-minute time intervals used in data capture. No smoothing or averaging. One-second time series plots typically show a lot of noise at higher temperatures in a given day, with much less noise lower or at night. Any ideas on what causes this strange looking noise pattern?
    Apologies for OT. Desperate. Geoff. sherro1 at optusnet dot com dot au

  17. Gamecock permalink
    August 28, 2017 1:00 pm

    So less ice in the Arctic is good.

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