It took more than a year to break the Nord Stream 2 stalemate and now – amidst the world expecting full-scale coronavirus vaccination, amidst the United States expecting the inauguration of President-elect Biden and Europe preoccupied with the future of the EU-UK cooperation rather than energy issues – Gazprom has restarted pipelaying operations on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. The Fortuna pipelaying vessel has finished working on the NS2 section in Germany’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and now it is only the Danish EEZ that remains to be laid. Coincidence or by some unfathomable design, it is exactly now that the next round of US sanctions goes into effect, indicating that the pipeline’s endgame will take place in the upcoming 3-4 months. Gazprom took quite some time to fully prepare itself for the pipelaying, almost a year has passed since Allseas ceased all operations out of concern for potential US retaliation and the Fortuna vessel started pipelaying in Germany’s EEZ. Such a massive timespan has left many analysts wondering how exactly would the Russian side opt to finish the pipeline and most of them, betting on Akademik Cherskiy, had been caught wrong. Fortuna started its operations off the Adlergrund shoal on December 11 and it took the vessel 17 days to complete both parallel strings (the 55 bcm per year throughput capacity is split between two strings the capacity of both which stands at 27.5 cm per year) of the German section, implying that the average pipelaying speed was much lower than the 1-1.5km per day initially assumed by industry watchers.
There have been very few offshore pipeline projects, if any, that had such a plethora of pipelaying vessel and supporting tugs appearing and disappearing, involved directly in pipelaying or acting merely as smoke and mirrors. Ever since Allseas stopped its pipelaying works in December 2019, the Akademik Cherskiy vessel was the prime candidate to carry on where the Swiss company has stalled – for this she circumnavigated half the planet, moving from Nakhodka in Russia’s Far East around the Cape of Good Hope to the Baltic Sea. Akademik Cherskiy, however, was inactive throughout pipelaying operations in Germany’s EEZ. Moreover, Cherskiy sits idle quite a distance from Germany, off Russia’s Kaliningrad region, accompanied by a couple of anchor-handling tugs, Artemis Offshore and Errie.
Confounding the Gazprom-owned pipeline’s opponents even further, the ownership structure of the Fortuna vessel has become even more untraceable as she was sold resold again in mid-December, this time to a completely unknown company called KVT-RUS. Crudely put, all the pertinent vessels that are active in pipelaying operations on Nord Stream-2 or merely have been linked to its construction have been sold away from Gazprom amidst the looming threat of US sanctions. Speaking of supply vessels, there are at least half a dozen others scattered across the Baltic Sea. In…
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