Gassy Voyage

October 16, 2015

Gazprom’s long-term evolution policy supposes the development of new markets, as well as the diversification of business activities. Therefore, expanding the production of liquefied natural gas (LNG) and the respective market share is one of the main goals of the Company nowadays.

A quite favorable geographic location of Russia allows delivering gas around the world. The crescent Asia-Pacific market is going to turn into a major gas consumer in the forthcoming decades. Two Far East-based LNG projects – existing Sakhalin II and emerging Vladivostok LNG – will enable Gazprom to strengthen its position in the Asia-Pacific market. The Atlantic states are supposed to be covered by another Gazprom’s project – Baltic LNG.

This photo essay will make you aware of the way gas is liquefied and LNG is transported.

The first and still the only LNG plant in Russia is located at the Aniva Bay shore, in the southern part of the Sakhalin Island. The plant produced its first lot of LNG in 2009. Above 900 lots of LNG (one standard lot holds 65,000 tons) were shipped ever since to Japan, South Korea, China, Taiwan, Thailand, India and Kuwait. The plant’s annual output exceeds 10 million tons of liquefied gas covering over 4 per cent of the global LNG supplies. And the figure is likely to grow – Gazprom and Shell signed the Memorandum on implementing the project for constructing the third train at the LNG plant within Sakhalin II in June 2015.

Sakhalin II is operated by Sakhalin Energy owned by Gazprom (50 per cent and one share), Shell (27.5 per cent less one share), Mitsui (12.5 per cent) and Mitsubishi (10 per cent). Sakhalin Energy is developing the Piltun-Astokhskoye and the Lunskoye fields in the Sea of Okhotsk. The LNG plant is supplied with gas from the Lunskoye field.

Having covered above 800 kilometers – from the island’s northern to its southern parts – gas comes to the plant through this yellow pipe. First, gas is assessed for its volume and content at the gas metering station and then it comes to the treatment unit. Raw gas has to be void of the following admixtures: dust, carbon dioxide, mercury, hydrogen sulfide and water, which turns into ice during gas liquefaction.

Methane – the main LNG component – should take no less than 92 per cent of the resultant mixture. Dried and treated raw gas proceeds passing through the process train, facing the liquefaction. It takes two stages – first, gas is chilled to minus 50 degrees Celsius, then – to minus 160 degrees Celsius. The first stage provides the separation of the heavy fractions – ethane and propane.

Ethane and propane are then sent to these two tanks for temporary storing (they are required for the next liquefaction stages).

These columns are the plant’s main fridge liquefying gas by chilling it to minus 160 degrees Celsius. Gas grows liquid by means of a special in-house technology. It is based on chilling methane through the chilling agent extracted previously from the raw gas, i.e. ethane and propane. Liquefaction requires normal atmospheric pressure.

Liquefied gas fills two tanks where it is stored until shipping to an LNG vessel. The tanks are of 38 meters height, 67 meters diameter and 100 thousand cubic meters capacity. Tanks have dual walls. The internal body is made of chill-resistant nickel-clad steel, the external one – of pre-strained reinforced concrete. The meter-and-a-half gap between tank bodies is filled with perlite (volcanic rock) sustaining the required temperature within the internal tank shell.

Mikhail Shilikovsky, Lead Engineer at the LNG plant, showed us over the site. He was hired by the company in 2006 and contributed into the plant completion and commissioning. The plant currently comprises two parallel process trains of 3.2 thousand cubic meters capacity each. Such an arrangement provides for energy saving during the process. The same is the reason for step-by-step gas chilling.

Five hundred meters away from the LNG plant lies an oil shipping terminal. It is of more simple design, because it represents just an oil staging post on its way to another customer. Oil as well comes to the Sakhalin southern area from the island’s northern part. Here oil is commingled with gas condensate produced while gas pre-liquefaction operations.

The black gold is stored in these two tanks of 95.4 thousand tons each. The tanks have floating roofs – if you looked at them from above, you would see the sea of oil there. It takes nearly seven days to fill the tanks up with oil. Therefore, oil is shipped off once a week (and LNG – once in 2–3 days).

All processes at the plant and the oil terminal are watched from the Main Control Board (MCB). All sites are equipped with CCTVs and sensors. The MCB is divided into three sections: the first one covers Life Support Systems, the second one controls Safety Systems and the third one supervises the processes. Gas liquefaction and shipment monitoring falls within the liability of three men who check up to three reference circuits every minute of their twelve-hour shift. This job requires an instant response and skills.

The Malaysian Viktor Botin is one of the most experienced persons here – why his full name sounds so much Russian does not know even he himself, but admits he is asked this question by every stranger he gets acquainted to. Viktor has been training the young experts at the MCB simulators in Sakhalin for as long as four years. It takes 18 months to train a new-comer and the same time period to supervise his field performance by his tutor.

As to the lab staff, their daily duties cover not just analysis of the supplied feedstock and the composition of the shipped LNG and oil, but checking the quality of petroleum products and lubricants used both within and beyond the plant site. The photo shows Albina Garifulina, lab technician, analyzing the composition of lubricants supposed for the application at drilling rigs in the Sea of Okhotsk.

And this is not a research, but an experiment with LNG. Liquefied gas looks like ordinary water, but evaporates instantly at the room temperature, and is so cold that requires special gloves to handle. The essence of the experiment is that any living thing gets frozen as it comes into contact with LNG. A chrysanthemum submerged into the flask got covered with ice completely in just 2–3 seconds.

Meanwhile, LNG loading has started. The Prigorodnoye port is capable to take gas vessels of different sizes – from the small ones of 18 thousand cubic meters capacity to the large ones such as the Ob River (in the photo) designed for nearly 150 thousand cubic meters. Liquefied gas comes into tanks through the manifold arranged under 800-meters-length pier.

It takes 16–18 hours to fill such a vessel with LNG. The vessel is connected to the pier through special hoses called loading arms. The process is easily identifiable by the thick ice layer on the steel generated due to the difference between LNG and ambient temperatures. The hotter is outside, the thicker is an ice crust. A photo from the archive.

LNG is shipped off, ice is melted down, loading arms are disconnected – it is high time to ‘hit the road’. Our destination point is Gwangyang, the South Korean port.

Since the LNG vessel is moored up with its larboard to take an LNG cargo to the Prigorodny port, it requires four tugs to get it out of the port area. They drag the vessel until it is capable to turn round to proceed independently. In winter time tugs are liable for keeping access to berths free of ice.

LNG vessels are faster than other cargo vessels, never mind any of passenger ships. The maximum speed of the Ob River carrier exceeds 19 knots (nearly 36 kilometers per hour), while a conventional oil carrier reaches 14 knots. The vessel can touch the South Korean bank in two days odd. But taking into account the tight schedule for LNG loading terminals, the vessel’s speed and route are subject to adjustments. Our voyage is going to last about a week, including one short stop by the Sakhalin shore.

Such a stop allows fuel saving and comes traditional for every crew of a gas vessel. While we’d been mooring waiting for an appropriate time to leave, there was the Grand Mereya tanker nearby waiting for its turn for berthing at the Sakhalin port.

Now we invite you to get closely acquainted with the Ob River carrier and its crew. This picture was taken in the autumn of 2012 – during the world’s first LNG shipping through the Northern Sea Route.

The Ob River herself became the first vessel that, being escorted by the 50 Let Pobedy (50 years of Victory), the Rossiya and the Voygatch ice-breakers and two ice-pilots, delivered the LNG shipment owned by Gazprom’s affiliate – Gazprom Marketing and Trading (GM&T) – from Norway to Japan. It took about a month.

The Ob River can be treated as a floating residential area by its dimensions – 288 meters length, 44 meters width and 11.2 meters draft. Even two-meters-high waves, smashing against the board and turning into a weird tracery, look like miserable splashes, as you are on the deck of such a great vessel.

The Ob River was given its name in summer 2012 – after signing the freight agreement between Gazprom Marketing & Trading and Dynagas, Greek shipping company. Previously the vessel was named the Clean Power and operated all around the world by GM&T till April 2013 (including twice passing along the Northern Sea Route). It was then freighted by Sakhalin Energy to operate in Russia’s Far East till 2018.

Membrane tanks for LNG are located in the rostrum and, unlike spherical tanks such as those of the Grand Mereya, concealed – their availability is only proved by pipes and valves protruding from the deck. The Ob River holds four tanks – of 25, 39 and other two of 43 thousand cubic meters capacity. Each is filled up to 98.5 per cent of their volume. LNG tanks have multi-layer steel bodies. Interlayer gaps are filled with nitrogen enabling to maintain appropriate temperature and prevent tank damages through keeping higher pressure between the membranes.

The carrier is also equipped with an LNG cooling system. As soon as the cargo gets warmer, the cargo pump is switched on to lift the cooler gas from the tank bottom and spray it over the upper warmed up one. Such a self-cooling process allows the reduction of gas losses while shipping to consumers. However, it is operative during the vessel motion only. Boil-off gas, not subject to cooling down, comes out of the tank through the dedicated piping and is routed to the engine room for combustion instead of the bunker fuel.

LNG temperature and pressure are monitored on a daily basis by engineer Ronaldo Ramos. He takes reading of the deck sensors not once during a day.

Comprehensive analysis of the cargo is done by the PC. The control board, providing all the essential LNG data, is attended by Pankaj Puneet, Chief Officer, and Nikolai Budzinsky, Third Mate.

And this is the engine-room – heart of the vessel. Four decks (elevations) hold engines, diesel generators, pumps, boilers and compressors liable, besides vessel propulsion, for all vital systems. The coordinated operation of all these units provides the crew with potable water, heat, electricity and fresh air.

These pictures and video were taken at the very bottom of the vessel – nearly 15 meters under water. In the center line one can see the turbine. Driven by steam, it makes 4–5 thousand rounds per minute and drives the propeller forcing the carrier to move.

The proper operation of all vessel systems is watched by a gang of mechanics headed by Manjit Singh, Chief Mechanic...

…and Ashwani Kumar, his deputy. Both are from India and they spent, as they say, the most of their lives in the sea.

Mechanics, being their subordinates, are liable for a fail-safe operation of the machinery. In case of an equipment failure, they immediately proceed to repairing, never mind the routine maintenance of every device.

Things requiring closer attention are taken to the shop – it is arranged at the vessel as well. Third Mechanic Arnulfo Ole (left) and trainee Ilya Kuznetsov (right) mend the pump component.

The captain’s bridge is the vessel’s brain. Captain Velemir Vasilic heard the sea calling him when he was just a kid – every third family in his native Croatian town has a mariner. He was 18 when he first put out to the sea. 21 years has passed since then and he changed not a dozen of ships – both the cargo and the passenger ones.

Even on vocation he always finds an opportunity to put out to the sea, let it be a small yacht. He confesses it is a real chance to enjoy the sea, because being a captain means a bulk of obligations – apart from the vessel itself, he is in charge for every crew member (Ob River crew amounts to 34 persons).

The captain’s bridge of a modern vessel resembles an aircraft cockpit by its panels, instruments and sensors – even steering controls look similar. Sailor Aldrin Galang (in the photo) is waiting for the captain’s order to take the steering wheel.

The vessel is equipped with radars enabling to detect precisely the type of a ship nearby, her name and the crew’s size; navigation systems and GPS sensors detecting automatically the Ob River positioning; electronic maps fixing the route passed and plotting the course ahead; as well as electronic compasses. However, the experienced mariners advise their trainee not to be dependent on electronic devices and assign them every now and then to spot the vessel’s position by the sun and the stars. Shown in the photo are Roger Dias, Third Captain’s Mate, and Muhammad Imran Hanif, Second Captain’s Mate.

Technological progress has not so far managed to displace paper maps, intended for hourly indications of the vessel’s location by means of a pencil and a ruler, and ship’s register is filled in handwriting.

So, it is high time to proceed. The Ob River weighs 14 tons anchor. Nearly a 400-meter anchor chain is lifted by the specialist tool. A few crew members are watching the process.

It took just 15 minutes. Nobody could assess how long it would take to weigh the anchor manually.

Experienced mariners say that the contemporary life of a seaman too much differs from what we saw at least 20 years ago. Discipline and the rigid schedule are the main requirements now. From the moment of departure the captain’s bridge sees round-the-clock duty. Three groups of two men each are on the eight-hour split watch daily at the conning bridge. Watchers keep their eyes on the vessel course and the surroundings both within and beyond the ship. Once we also were on duty under the strict supervision of Rodger Dias and Nikolai Budzinsky.

Meanwhile, the mechanics deal with another job – they not just monitor the machinery run, but keep operability of the stand-by and emergency equipment. Particularly, they change lube oil in the rescue boat. There are two of them at the Ob River intended for the emergency evacuation. Each boat is designed for 44 persons and kept filled with potable water, food and medicines.

And the sailors are cleaning the deck…

…and cleaning the premises – a squeaky-clean vessel is no less important than proper doings.

Almost daily, emergency drills put some color in routine operations. Everybody gets involved, duties put aside. Three emergency training took place during a week. First, the crew extinguished imaginary fire within the incinerator.

Then they rescued a fictitious victim fallen from high elevation. In the picture one can see a nearly rescued ‘man’ – he was then entrusted to the ambulance crew that took him to hospital. Everybody plays his own part during the training. The ambulance crew is headed by cook Ceazar Cruz Campana (center) and his mates Maximo Respecia (left) and Reygerield Alagos (right).

The third training, i.e. bomb finding, took after some adventure. Chief Officer Grewal Gianni (third from left) headed the action. The vessel crew was divided by teams and each one got a list of proposed checking locations...

…and proceeded to finding a big green Bomb-marked box. Surely, the speed mattered.

Work is work, but no lunch can be skipped. The Philippine-born Ceazar Cruz Campana (pictured previously) is authorized with feeding. Being educated in cooking and having twenty odd years of caboose experience, he is capable of doing his job freely and easily. He says he roamed all over the world except Scandinavia and Alaska and knows well every nation’s preferences for food.

It is not that simple to feed copiously such an international crew. He cooks Indian, Malaysian and Continental dishes for breakfasts, lunches and dinners to please everybody. He is assisted by Maximo and Reygerield.

Every now and then the crew members call into caboose (mariners’ jargon for the ‘kitchen’). Sometimes, feeling home sick, they cook national dishes by themselves and treat the whole crew. In the photo one can see the joint finishing of laddu (the Indian sweets) cooked by Pankaj (left). While Ceazar was completing the main dishes for dinner, Rodger (second from left) and Mohammad (second from right) helped their mate to shape small dough balls.

Russian mariners get foreign mates acquainted with their culture through music. Third Mate Sergey Solnov plays the Russian folk tunes on the guitar.

Spending leisure time together is welcomed at the vessel – officers are on service for three month running, the ranks – about 12 months. For this period all crew members became more than just mates – they turned to be friends. On days off (i.e. on Sundays duties remain, but to a smaller extent) the crew members watch movies and arrange karaoke contests or video game competitions.

However, the most popular leisure activity here in the open sea is table tennis. The ship’s gym sees some real tournaments.

Meanwhile, the monotonous scenery outside has changed – the land appeared on the horizon. We approach the South Korean shore.

The sailors proceeded to mooring lines preparation before entering the port, hanged the South Korean flag up the mast (it is the mandatory rule for vessels entering territorial waters of another state) and put down a ladder for a pilot.

The pilot is a man in charge for a vessel maneuvering within the territorial waters and for communicating with a port. He is going to control the vessel course until the mooring completion.

As regasification terminal is taking its clear shape, four tugs go towards the vessel.

Pressing against her board, they push the vessel to the birth. Then the Ob River is connected to loading arms (same as those at the Sakhalin terminal) and LNG offloading starts. It takes as long as it did to fill the vessel with liquefied gas.

This is where the LNG shipping ends. The regasification terminal turns the liquid back into the gassy state to transmit it to the local consumers.

Being totally exhausted, the Ob River comes back to Sakhalin to take another LNG cargo. What Asian country is next, usually becomes clear right before the vessel is loaded with the Russian gas.

Our gassy voyage is over, but Gazprom’s LNG business, like a monstrous gas carrier, is approaching its cruising speed. We wish deep waters to this ‘great ship’.

P.S. All the safety requirements were met during photographing and filming. Special thanks to the Gazprom Marketing & Trading and the Sakhalin Energy representatives for assistance during the shooting.

Gazprom website Editorial Board

You may find large pictures in Photos.