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.