(EnergyAsia, December 24 2012, Monday) — Russian gas giant Gazprom said it has executed the first successful shipment of a liquefied natural gas (LNG) cargo through the Arctic northern sea route.

This route cuts the maritime distance from Northern Europe to Northeast Asia by up to 40% compared to southern sea routes via the Suez or Panama canals, said Gazprom.

The carrier ‘Ob River’, chartered by wholly-owned subsidiary Gazprom Marketing & Trading (GM&T) group and operated by Dynagas (Greece), delivered the cargo from the Snohvit terminal in Hammerfest, Norway to the Tobata terminal in Japan.

Throughout its voyage from November 9 to 18, the vessel was escorted by Russian nuclear icebreakers operated by Rosatomflot and assisted by ice-pilots provided by the Northern Sea Route Administration. The waters of the Barents and Kara Sea were mostly ice-free with young ice of up to 30 cm encountered between Vilkitskogo and Bering Strait.

Gazprom said the voyage was completed safely and on schedule with excellent support from the ice pilots, masters and crews of the ice breakers and the personnel of Rosatomflot and the Northern Sea Route Administration of the Ministry of Transport of Russian Federation.

The northern sea route (NSR), or north-east passage, is a shipping lane linking the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean along the North coast of Siberia, most of the route being in Arctic waters.

The combination of shorter cargo delivery times, fuel economy, the ability to meet tighter schedules on cross-basin trades, reduction in boil-off with more cargo delivered, lower greenhouse gas generation and reduced piracy risks presents a very attractive and sustainable solution for the cross-basin LNG trade.

Having made a ballasting voyage from Asia to Europe in October, the Ob River’s round trip confirms the technical and commercial viability of the NSR in serving the global LNG trade.

Frédéric Barnaud, executive director at Gazprom Marketing & Trading, said:

“Never before has LNG been transported via this route. This huge achievement is the result of the LNG and Shipping & Logistics teams at GM&T working together with our partners to make this happen. The importance of opening up the NSR as a viable alternative to our customers fully complements our commitment to the fast growing Asian LNG market which is a key area of growth for the Gazprom group.”

The ’Ob River’ was built in 2007 with 1A ice class notation (Lloyd’s Register) and extensive winterisation equipment. The vessel and its crew successfully performed in ice conditions in 2009-2011 when chartered by the GM&T group for winter operations to export LNG from “Sakhalin-2”, the first Russian LNG project where OAO Gazprom is the majority shareholder.

The vessel has an international crew on board, including Russian officers – the graduates of the Admiral Makarov State Maritime Academy in St. Petersburg, Russia’s leading maritime education and training centre.