South Korean shipbuilder Samsung Heavy Industries plans to move forward with the construction of three more ice-breaking LNG carrier hulls for Russia’s Zvezda Shipbuilding Complex amid concerns over how payments can be handled.

Newbuilding sources in South Korea said SHI has not revealed much about its plans for the Zvezda business. It is being paid about $2.5bn to supply hull blocks and equipment under a contract that runs until December 2025.

But they reference those working with the yard as saying the shipbuilder aims to deliver five hulls in total to its Russian partner on the LNG carriers.

A first hull arrived at Zvezda’s facility in Bolshoi Kamen, south-eastern Russia, last October for work to start on tank and ice bow fitting.

This pilot vessel — the 172,600-cbm Aleksey Kosygin — is the first full-size LNG carrier for completion in Russia. It was ordered by domestic shipowner Sovcomflot (SCF Group) and was originally scheduled for delivery by the end of February 2023.

Contracts for a further 14 vessels were signed by Smart LNG, Sovcomflot’s joint venture with Russian energy company Novatek.

The first of these was launched at SHI in 2021. The vessel — to be named the Pyotr Stolypin — is due to be delivered in 2023 to dovetail with the planned start-up of the first train of the 19.8-million tonnes per annum liquefaction Arctic LNG 2 project.

Data analysts believe the vessel is currently in dry dock at Zvezda.

Observers said the number of hulls that SHI would build has always been a little blurry. Its deal with Zvezda was a form of technology-transfer agreement, under which the Russian shipbuilder would train up in LNG carrier construction.

They point to a sanctions deadline at the end of May for the delivery of equipment and services, questioning whether any of the vessels can be completed and reach final sign-off.

Questions are also being asked about the feasibility of delivering to Novatek six more Arc7 LNG carriers that are under construction at Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering.

Three of these ships were ordered by Japanese owner Mitsui OSK Lines, with the remaining trio contracted by Sovcomflot. They are scheduled for handover in 2023.

MOL and NYK Line, working in partnership with Sovcomflot, are also each building four Arc4 LNG carriers at DSME and SHI, respectively. They were contracted against Novatek charters.

Novatek and its engineers for the Arctic LNG 2 project have already indicated that its planned 2023 start-up now looks in doubt.

While the gravity-based structure first train is almost complete, this needs to be floated, towed, installed and tested.

In April, Novatek chief executive Leonid Mikhelson said it was hard to confirm the project’s schedule.

Last week, Russian news agency Interfax reported that a Murmansk court had seized tug operator Boskalis units — the 1,090-dwt dredger Nordic Giant (built 1999) and pontoon Arctic Scradeway — and transferred their ownership to a Russian entity, after the Dutch company terminated a contract for work on the Arctic LNG 2 project.

Boskalis has not replied to requests for confirmation and comment.