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26 Sep, 2010 06:21

Nord Stream charges towards phase 1 completion

The first phase of the Nord Stream gas pipeline is due to be completed by next April with an international crew of more than 400 specialists working night and day laying pipe at record speed.

The world’s biggest pipe laying vessel has started working in the Baltic Sea only a month ago and already it is one week ahead of schedule – having laid 40 kilometers of the pipeline so far. 300 metres long and 60 metres high – the vessel is a record-holder in deepwater pipe laying. There are over a thousand kilometers ahead, but it’s progressing fast.

Environmental concerns were the main obstacle to the Nord Stream pipeline, and as an added complication the waters between Russia and Finland are full of mine lines left from the Second World War. But with Solitaire’s dynamic positioning system there’s little to fear as the vessel can be manoeuvered with pinpoint accuracy without having to use anchors. The technology has helped increase the speed of the operation and also made it cheaper, according to Sergey Serdyukov, Technical Director of Nord Stream.

“Every seven minutes the pipe is going down and the vessel moves. It's planned for it to lay 2.3km a day; but we're already reaching 2.5km. And we believe it’s quite possible to reach 3km. In fact, to lay pipes in the sea is cheaper than on land where you have to deal with landowners and compensate them. That’s complicated. Our project is very detailed and we’re already advancing in our schedule.”

The vessel has already hosted several dignitaries on its journey towards Russia. The main promoter of the pipeline, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, was one of those to go aboard and watched the pipes as they made there way to the sea floor. Leo D Varkevisser, Vice President of Allseas, a Nord Stream contractor, is keen to support Putin's plans to build more energy links between Russia and Europe and take on the work it would bring.

“We are aware of the new developments of the South Stream project, we are already talking with Gazprom on the Shtockman project and we foresee huge amount of activity in the Arctic area in the future.”

No matter who ultimately wins the battle for the Arctic's energy reserves, the owners of the Solitaire are already betting the development of the region will happen. To meet that need, they've started to build a new vessel which will be three times bigger than The Solitaire and will be able to withstand the harsh conditions of the far north.