Operating Triple-Azipod® Propulsion Double Acting LNG Carriers in Arctic Waters: The Importance of Cutting-Edge Specialized Training Programs

Written by Magnus Winberg (Senior Lecturer, cpt.), Aboa Mare.

The combination of oil and gas production, harsh and remote polar areas, sensitive environment and a limited amount of experienced seafarers makes it a tough call to figure out how to transport petroleum products safely, speedily and economically and yet sustain a high level of environmental awareness.

One of the largest current producers in the oil and gas field is, without doubt, the Yamal LNG gas plant and export harbor in Sabetta, Russia. This is a joint venture involving Novatek (50.1%), Total (20%), CNPC (20%) and Silk Road Fund (9.9%), and is currently producing around 16,5 million tons of LNG and 1,2 million tons of gas condensate per annum. This amounts to around  50,000 tons per day! Consequently what would be necessary is either one LNG tanker of this carrying capacity sailing every day, or one tanker of 100,000 tons every second day. Of course, even larger carriers could be contemplated.

Sabetta LNG tanker size and design

The preliminary studies showed that the 80,000 ton size would be optimal. The waters leading to Sabetta port are shallow, with a minimum depth “over the bar” in the northern parts of the bay of Ob of only about 10 meters, which necessitates some dredging. A quick calculation of the size of a vessel with a maximum draft of 12 meters yields a ship about 300m long by 50m wide! It is therefore clear that this is the most feasible size.

The ships were eventually designed to be very sophisticated ships, featuring six main diesel engines in a powerplant configuration, diesel-electric power -distribution and three ABB Azipod® propulsion units.

Yamal LNG ship arriving Sabetta in stern mode (simulator screenshot).

Moreover, the ships were also to be of the Double Acting Ship (DAS) variety, which are designed to operate stern first in heavier ice conditions. The ships were designed to operate year-round in maximum first-year ice, having the capability to break 2m thick level ice.

The ships were built to these specifications and all 15 ships in this series are now in operation.

A standard LNG carrier is a highly specialized ship, at least when it comes to the cargo compartments. With respect to propulsion and ship handling, they are not, however, special in any way. We are talking about single screw, one big main engine, no bowthruster and a horde of tugboats pushing the ship around in port. The difference to the triple-Azipod® Yamal LNGs is stunning.

Converting crews to the high-tech arctic ships

As it turned out, the shipowners realized that a challenge existed in converting crews from standard ships operating in lower latitudes, to the high-tech arctic ships. Soon the propulsion system contractor, ABB Marine & Ports, was contacted and a project to deliver specialized training was initiated.

Azimuth levers on one of Aboa Mare's Azipod® propulsion bridges.

Azipod® System Training at Aboa Mare since 2010 

A short backtrack: Azipod® propulsion operation training was first developed starting in 2010, when ABB, after realizing that the training would benefit greatly from being simulator-based, contacted Aboa Mare Academy and Training Center for discussions on co-operation. Aboa Mare, the leading maritime training provider in Finland, accepted the invitation, and, in co-operation with ABB, started developing a training program. After piloting the training, the commercial training commenced in early 2011.

At an early stage, this basic Azipod® system training was designated a “workshop”, rather than using a more traditional “course” denomination. This was in order to point out that a high degree of interaction and teamwork is used, and indeed required, in the same way the operation of a ship with Azipod® propulsion system demands a lot of the bridge team.

The workshop soon evolved into two versions, one for the operational level and one for the management level officers. Over the years, several dozens of training workshops were delivered. Back to the present: The above mentioned DAS Azipod® Yamal LNG specialized workshop was planned and piloted during 2016, in co-operation with ABB Marine & Ports and Aboa Mare. Basically, Aboa Mare focused on the simulator training scenarios and ABB was responsible for the planning the theory lectures and materials, but there was, however, a lot of interaction already during the planning stage.

From the beginning, the new workshop was planned as being very focused on hands on training, giving the trainees the real feel for their new machines. This was realized by using the specially adapted simulator facilities of Aboa Mare. Around 75 % of the workshop time is spent in the simulators, keeping the theoretical discussions down to the essentials, to be refined hands on in the simulated Arctic.

Sabetta simulator and Yamal LNG ship modelling

Quite a lot of work went into creating the simulator modeling, “building” the Sabetta harbor and Bay of Ob, as well as the Yamal LNG simulator ship-model. The harbor and approaches were put together by Aboa Mare´s technical team, which was quite stretched but delivered a remarkably accurate harbor model which worked perfectly. The ship model was constructed by simulator supplier Transas Ltd, and this model also turned out to be a smoothly working tool. The double-acting function of the ship also had to be modeled in the simulator. This function was not available in the standard simulator configuration, and thus had to be built from scratch, again a demanding job for the Aboa Mare technicians. It all came together and turned out to work beautifully! It is extremely nice to achieve something as the first in the field!

Aboa Mare bridge with levers for Azipod® propulsion system.

The simulator ice-modeling software as such proved to lack some of the functions needed for training the recommended operation of the huge gas carriers. Aboa Mare personnel again put in an effort, and, by thinking “out of the box”, it proved possible to achieve the desired functions by performing certain manual inputs in an unorthodox way. It can be described as running the simulator in “overdrive”, pushing the limits and operating at least 120% !

The workshop was then considered ready for testing and a pilot workshop was conducted in May, 2016. It was attended by representatives from various shipping companies involved in the Yamal LNG project. On the whole, the pilot workshop was a success, and only minor adjustments were made to the curriculum and exercises. The workshop was then ready for delivery.

Conning Screen

Ice Azipod® System Training at Aboa Mare since 2017

In November 2017, the first commercial workshop was ordered. However, as the attendees did not have any previous experience of Azipod® propulsion system, the company requested a combination of the earlier operational level basic (three-day) Azipod® system operation training workshop, and the new ice operation (five-day) workshop, making it an eight-day combination, which soon became the standard delivery.

To date, around 15 Arctic Azipod® system operation training workshops have been delivered. It is easy to declare the concept a resounding success! Without exception, the attendees described the workshop combination as extremely important and absolutely necessary for the successful operation of their new cutting-edge, technology- filled ships.

“I would never have set my foot on that ship without this training!”
The training continues.

As of 2020, the next large LNG project, Arctic LNG 2 is under construction on the Gydan peninsula, across the bay of Ob from Sabetta. This facility is planned to come online in late 2022 with a yearly production around 20 million tons. Additional projects are also being planned in the Ob bay area, with production starts in mid-decade and latter 2020s. The need for additional specialized LNG carriers is obvious and preliminary plans mention around 45 new ships in this decade. 

We look forward to the possibility of providing training to even more seafarers of the high north!

If you would like to know more about how Aboa Mare Academy and Training Center can help your company and its operations, please contact us at -.


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