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In Last-Minute Effort, U.S. Sanctions Nord Stream 2's Pipelay Vessel

pipelay barge
The Fortuna (file image courtesy MRTS)

Published Jan 18, 2021 6:00 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Trump administration has decided to place sanctions on the Russian pipelay barge Fortuna, which is under charter for the completion of the last few miles of Gazprom's Nord Stream 2 pipeline. 

In December 2019, the U.S. Congress passed language that would penalize any shipowner involved in providing pipelay services to the project. The U.S. considers the pipeline to be a strategic threat to its allies in Eastern Europe, as it would allow Russia to bypass their pipeline networks while still supplying gas to German customers. It would also increase overall European reliance on Russian natural gas as an energy source. 

Swiss pipelay operator Allseas immediately left Nord Stream 2 after the sanctions measures passed. Gazprom hired and repositioned the Russian-owned Fortuna as a substitute for Allseas' vessels, and last month, after a year of delay, Fortuna completed a 1.4 nm stretch of the pipeline in German waters.

Nord Stream 2 is now about 93 percent complete, according to Gazprom. The firm has secured permission from Denmark to move forward with pipelay operations in Danish waters, and it announced intentions to begin work on the final 50-nm stretch on January 15. As of January 18, the Fortuna was still anchored off Rostock, Germany, according to AIS tracking. 

Nord Stream 2 is a high priority for the German government, and its completion is a source of tension between Berlin and Washington. “We’re taking note of the [U.S.] announcement with regret,” a spokesperson for Germany's Economy Ministry told Reuters. 

U.S. sanctions measures have not reportedly targeted the Russian pipelay vessel Akademik Cherskiy, which made a 12,000 nm voyage from Vladivostok to the Nord Stream 2 work area just months after Allseas departed the project. She is the only other Russian-flagged vessel capable of handling Nord Stream 2's pipelay requirements, and she is currently anchored at Kaliningrad, just 250 nm to the east of Fortuna

An additional round of sanctions imposed under the U.S. National Defense Authorization Act for FY2021 (NDAA) penalizes entities that help upgrade the Russian pipelay vessels involved in the project; entities that help test, inspect or certify the pipeline; and entities that provide insurance or reinsurance for the project. The class society DNV has backed out of its certification role in Nord Stream 2 in response.