A landmark Russian Arctic liquefied natural gas (LNG) shipment has begun its journey through the Northern Sea Route (NSR) to Asia, marking the delayed start of summer navigation as thawing sea ice clears a short-cut to the world's biggest LNG market.
The $27 billion Yamal LNG plant
developed by Russia's Novatek and France's Total despite U.S. sanctions started exporting in December, but cargoes ferried on ice-class LNG tankers have sailed to Europe.
From there, Yamal's LNG was transferred on to standard tankers for onward shipment to Asia via the Suez Canal or else sold and used in Europe at a time when the NSR was shut.
Yamal's Vladimir Rusanov tanker marks the plant's first shipment through the NSR, shipping data on Thomson Reuters Eikon shows.
The NSR, which is crucial for Yamal LNG, typically opens for summer navigation from June until November but severe ice conditions this year have delayed the start of deliveries.
The passageway is important for Yamal because it cuts shipping times to its main customers in Asia by nearly half - to 15 days - and thus saving time and Suez Canal fees incurred on the westward route.
One of Yamal's other ice-class LNG tankers, the Christoph de Margerie, sailed the NSR last year before the plant opened, carrying a cargo from Equinor's Snoehvit LNG plant in the Barents Sea.
It was the first LNG tanker to cross the route without an ice-breaker support vessel.
In November 2012, Gazprom's Ob River LNG carrier tested the route for the first time carrying a Norwegian cargo to Japan escorted by two atomic ice-breakers.
Reporting by Oleg Vukmanovic