Mitsui OSK Lines will begin shipping liquefied natural gas through the Arctic Ocean in 2018 — making it the first company in the world to tap the sea as a regular transit route.
Using icebreakers and tankers, the company plans to deliver LNG shipments to Europe and Asia from a gas plant to be built on the Yamal Peninsula in northern Russia, where gas producer Novatek is engaged in a joint LNG venture.
The Yamal LNG project is 60 per cent-owned by Novatek of Russia, with 20 per cent each held by Total of France and China National Petroleum Corporation.
Novatek plans to have annual production capacity of 16.5 million tonnes. One of Novatek’s largest shareholders is Gennady Timchenko, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin who is of course currently facing heavy sanctions. Russia is trying to diversify the customers for its energy and increase business in Asia.
Once almost impassable, the Arctic Ocean is now attracting interest as a shipping route because global warming has reduced the ice cover within the Arctic Circle. More ships have been plying the northern route between Europe and Asia, which is 40 per cent shorter than the conventional path through the Suez Canal. Last year, 71 ships crossed the Arctic Ocean between Europe and Asia, compared with four in 2010, according to Japan’s transportation ministry.
The Arctic Ocean route will allow ships to sail from Japan to Europe in about 29 days, roughly 10 days faster than the current route through the Suez Canal.