At a working meeting with the Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on 10 July 2017, Sovcomflot CEO Sergey Frank called for additional measures to ensure navigation safety along the Northern Sea Route (NSR) given the significant growth of freight traffic in that area. The meeting placed emphasis on an improved NSR infrastructure in fields such as development of the navigational and hydrographic support system, better rescue services, and improved reliability of navigational and communications aids to ensure that these remain adequate to maritime needs.
With further growth projected and given the vulnerability of the Arctic ecosystem, Frank has asked for a ban on substandard ships and crews in the region. Notably, this would give Sovcomflot a serious competitive edge over other freight market players. Sovcomflot vessels operating along the NSR meet the international and domestic regulations that apply to the construction, equipment, and handling of Arctic vessels. The vessels are manned by professional crews, many of whom have been purpose-trained for Arctic operations, and approximately half of the company’s 149 vessels are of high ice class. Additionally, Sovcomflot is switching over to LNG as a primary fuel for Aframax tankers, with orders placed for purpose-designed Aframaxes run on LNG to be delivered in 2018. Each 114,000-dwt tanker will have an ice class sufficient to ensure a safe year-round transportation of crude oil from regions with challenging ice conditions, including subarctic seas. The SCF Group plans to set up production of similar vessels and place orders for them at existing shipbuilding facilities located in Russia’s Northwest and the Russian Far East.
During the first half of 2017 alone, Sovcomflot vessels safely transported 17 million tonnes of crude oil from the Russian Arctic and the Russian Far East to consumers. As of the end of Q2 2017, over 200 million tonnes of crude oil and more than 16 million tonnes of liquefied natural gas have been safely transported by SCF vessels for energy projects operating in the Arctic seas (Varandey, Prirazlomnoye, Novy Port) and in the Russian Far East (Sakhalin-1, Sakhalin-2) since the company’s turn to long-term project-based energy transportation and offshore servicing in 2006. In 2018, just the two energy projects in the Gulf of Ob (Novy Port and Yamal LNG), both served by SCF vessels, are expected to generate around 11.5 million tonnes of freight alone, almost doubling the Soviet-era NSR peak record of 6.6 million tonnes in 1987. SCF shuttle tankers has commenced year-round oil shipments from Novy Port for the first time as recently as September 2016, and Yamal LNG is expected to come onstream in late 2017.