Four ice-strengthened LNG carriers originally contracted by NYK and Sovcomflot have been moved to the ownership of a Dubai-based entity as they are granted permits by Russian authorities to sail on the Northern Sea Route (NSR).

Their apparent ownership shift and emergence on the NSR permitting site is creating waves in a market in which Western sanctions are being increasingly imposed on a variety of assets to block Russia’s ability to develop planned LNG facilities and export cargoes.

Shipping data shows that the 174,000-cbm sister ships North Air and North Mountain (both built 2023) and newbuildings North Sky (ex-North Star) and North Way (ex-North Wind) have been shifted to White Fox Ship Management, a company listed as based in a business park in Dubai.

Ownership of each vessel is detailed as under the care of White Fox from their deliveries in October and December 2023 and February and March 2024, respectively. But management was transferred to the Dubai company on 7 and 8 April this year.

The four Arc4 vessels were declassed by classification society DNV on 7 and 8 April and are now listed under the Indian Registry of Shipping. DNV said it does not give details for declassing vessels.

The quartet has also been reflagged from Singapore to Panama.

Clarksons’ Shipping Intelligence Network lists the four ships as operated by Singapore-based Novatek Gas & Power Asia, a trading arm of Russian energy company Novatek.

On 14 June, applications were made to Russia’s Northern Sea Route General Administration, which is controlled by Rosatom, for all four Arc4 vessels to sail on the waters of the NSR. Permission has since been granted.

The LNG quartet was originally ordered at Samsung Heavy Industries in 2021 by Japan’s NYK and Russia’s Sovcomflot, which had previously worked together on other LNG shipping business.

The ice-class 1A or Arc4 LNG carriers, priced at around $202m each, are contracted against long-term time charter contracts with Novatek Gas & Power Asia.

In September 2022, TradeWinds reported that NYK was buying Sovcomflot’s 50% stake in all four newbuildings. This is reflected in the history of the ships in the Clarksons database, which shows NYK taking ownership in 2022.

The move came in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. At the time, yards could not complete vessels in which Russian companies held interests, as some subcontractors for key parts on the ships are unable to work with and accept payments from them.

Sanction struggles

TradeWinds asked NYK for clarification on its ownership of the vessels.

Clarksons’ database says the four vessels transferred from NYK and Sovcomflot ownership to NYK on 8 August 2022. NYK has never confirmed this.

But the shipowner said that although it is unable to disclose details of the transaction, it dissolved its shared ownership of four vessels with Sovcomflot in April 2024 and at present does not have any ownership in them.

Post-February 2022, three LNG carriers ordered by Sovcomflot at Hyundai Samho Heavy Industries against long-term time charters with TotalEnergies were sold to Greece’s Alpha Gas. Another trio at what was then Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering — now Hanwha Ocean — was cancelled by the yard.

Novatek deploys a fleet of 15 specialised Arc7 ice-breaking LNG carriers to export cargoes through the NSR.

When ice allows and the Arctic passage opens up for summer sailings — usually from around June to July — Novatek has used lower ice-class or ice-strengthened tonnage.

But the Russian energy company is also battling with the start-up of its second liquefaction project, Arctic LNG 2, amid sanctions that have limited its shipping capabilities and ability to complete its liquefaction trains on schedule.

In particular, the US has imposed sanctions on three Arc7 LNG newbuildings now controlled by Hanwha Ocean; five similar vessels building at Russia’s Zvezda Shipbuilding Complex; and two unfinished hulls at SHI, along with other yard, project and storage assets.

Shipowners and brokers have also pointed to some recent LNG ship sales, which they believe could be linked to future Russian business.