The Russian pipe-laying company is hindered by technical imperfections, European legislation, and American sanctions.
The pipe-laying vessel Akademic Chersky, the only domestic vessel capable of completing the underwater section of the “Nord stream-2” (NS – 2), reached its destination after almost three months of the sea voyage. The ship anchored in the Harbor of the German town of Sassnitz, near which are the berths of the German port of Mukran, where the logistics terminal of the Russian pipeline is located. However, it seems that it will not be possible to proceed quickly to the final stage of pipe lying. First, experts believe that Chersky does not yet have the necessary equipment to lay a pipeline to the Baltic Sea. Secondly, Europe has not agreed on all the permits for the project. Third, when starting work, Akademic Chersky will fall under us sanctions, which are quite capable of once again shifting the timing of commissioning the long-awaited gas pipeline for the supply of Russian “blue fuel” to the EU, bypassing Ukraine.
According to international ship traffic control systems, in the first week of May, the Akademik Chersky, which had rested for several days on the Baltiysk roadstead but did not enter the port, completed refueling, replenished food and water supplies, and conducted a partial crew change.
The Akademik was forced to do all this after a nearly three-month raid, during which the ship had to make an arduous journey from Nakhodka to the Baltic Sea. In February, Gazprom’s Swiss contractors, with whom agreements were signed for the completion of the NS-2 offshore sections, refused to lie the remaining several dozen kilometers of the pipeline. Europeans were afraid of American sanctions that impose severe financial restrictions on participants in the construction of a new Russian gas pipeline. Initially, it was planned that the Chersky would reach the Baltic in about a month, but it was not so simple: the ship had to visit Singapore, and then pass by the coast of Africa. Nevertheless, after almost three months of travel, the Chersky anchored near the water area of the port of Mukran.
Several Russian experts were quick to conclude that filling the holds of fresh provisions and pick an efficient team of Russian to pipelay shortly will go to the completion of the remaining offshore section of the pipeline route, exceptionally since a rough cut does not exceed 120 km: 70 km — from the first string and less than 50 km from the second branch pipe (from 1230 km route). However, as it turned out, there are still many pitfalls on the way to creating a new Russian gas branch.
According To RusEnergy partner Mikhail Krutikhin, Akademik Chersky is not equipped with exclusive technologies for laying pipes of the required diameter for NS-2. “The ship will have to be delayed for modernization to equip its economy with the required capacity. Also, there are still European legal resolutions that can impose a ban on the construction of such projects, since they can violate EU antitrust rights. Finally, the prompt inclusion of Chersky in work on completing the construction of the NS-2 is called into question by Western, first of all, American sanctions, which fall under almost any partner of Gazprom that agrees to help Russia complete the creation of this gas pipeline. So far, there are no technological and legal prerequisites for the quick commissioning of the NS-2,” the expert warns.
Whether Chersky needs technical re-equipment remains an intrigue. According to Igor Yushkov, an expert on the national energy security Fund, earlier this year, it became known about the tender for the modernization of Akademik. The vessel was prepared for possible use in the framework of the NS-2 project. However, nothing is known about the results of this tender. In other words, it is not clear whether the ship has passed the necessary technological improvement. “It is possible that Chersky will still have to get up on the slipway to bring its characteristics to the level essential for such work. Mainly, it will be necessary to reconfigure the vessel to lay pipes of broader diameter, because until now, Akademik has specialized in smaller sizes on domestic projects,” Yushkov explains.
The expert believes that the actual work on completing the construction of NS-2 “Akademic” will start in June since this is the calmest time of the year when such projects can be carried out in the stormy Baltic Sea. The speed of laying “Chersky” is 2 km per hour. In other words, the ship can complete all the work on the project in 3-4 months.
However, there are some technical aspects that risk slowing down the installation of the gas pipeline. It is impossible to get the necessary volumes of pipes on Board. Their storage on sea vessels created for laying gas pipelines is not cost-effective, and dangerous-future gas pipelines may be damaged. Possible overloading is, in principle, risky for any boat.
“The gas pipeline will be completed, but whether it will be operated at full capacity or with a gradual increase in throughput capacity (Gazprom may be restricted by 50% in deliveries under the NS-2, according to EU antitrust laws) – this issue will most likely be decided at the political level. The main thing for Russia now is to start completing the project. Only in this case, our country will be able to offer its Western partners a new ready-made export channel for the supply of hydrocarbons. A prefabricated pipe is the best argument in any political disputes,” Yushkov believes.