Date: 20 April 2020
Who Will Complete Nord Stream 2?
In December last year, the U.S. Congress voted to impose sanctions against any company that helps Russia go ahead with the last section of its Nord Stream energy pipeline. Thus, Russia has been left with no choice as the only way to complete the project is to finish pipelaying works beneath the Baltic Sea on its own. Not surprisingly, the most plausible option is to deploy a specialized pipelaying vessel, the Akademik Cherskiy, though its somewhat baffling journey from the Far East to Europe could be a smokescreen as Gazprom is pushing for employing smaller vessels –– although these will need to adapt to meet Denmark’s requirements.
The Akademik Cherskiy, a Russian flagship pipelayer meant to complete the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, is expected to reach the Baltic Sea by early May this year. In the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, the vessel could be equipped with any tools necessary to finish the pipeline. The Cherskiy is now en route to Kaliningrad, where it is expected by May 10. Just 160 kilometers –– or in fact 320 kilometers with its two strands –– of the total length of the two-string line is still left to lay. For Gazprom, the Akademik Cherskiy has emerged as the presumptive alternative to foreign pipelayers. The vessel is now heading towards the Baltic Sea from the Nakhodka harbor in the Russian Far East. The trouble is yet that the Russian-flagged pipelayer –– instead of going the shortest and thus the fastest way –– went the other way round. Akademik Cherskiy left the port of Nakhodka on February 10, heading toward Singapore. Yet it set a new course for the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo. Later, the crew set the direction for the Suez Canal though this was disabled as the vessel navigated around Africa instead of traversing the canal off to the Mediterranean Sea. It later corrected the course to Maputo, Mozambique, where it was scheduled for March 23. But once again the Cherskiy betrayed its intended route, sailing further to the south while bypassing the port.
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Compared to the Allseas’ vessel Pioneering Spirit, the Akademik Cherskiy is a small-scale pipelayer, owned by Gazprom subsidiary Gazprom Flot. Also, the Akademik Cherskiy is the only Russian-flagged pipelaying vessel able to go ahead with the pipelaying work within the Danish exclusive economic zone. Some say that the Cherskiy’s peculiar journey to the Baltic Sea seeks to serve as somewhat a smokescreen to steer the media’s attention away from the fact that other Russian ships will be deployed for further operations. These could be first and foremost smaller ships that are already operating in the Baltic. They might be engaged in pipelaying works in Denmark’s exclusive economic zone once equipped with adequate technologies in line with the country’s internal regulations.
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