Mitsui OSK Lines has ordered four LNG carrier newbuildings at Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering and has inked contracts to charter the vessels with Russian gas giant Novatek.

Tokyo-based MOL said the charter deals had been signed by a subsidiary with Novatek Gas & Power Asia.

The 174,000-cbm vessels are due for delivery dates in 2024.

The LNG carriers will be fitted with MAN Energy Solutions ME-GA engines, which MOL said offer "major improvements in fuel efficiency".

They will also be built with on-board reliquefaction and a shaft generator system that uses the rotating propeller shaft for power generation.

“These vessels are considerably more environmentally friendly than current LNG carriers,” the company said.

In August, TradeWinds reported that Novatek had reserved more berths than expected for a series of ice-class 1A or Arc4 LNG carriers it needs for its Arctic LNG 2 project exports.

At DSME, the Russian LNG producer was said to have booked two firm berths and a pair of options.

Novatek has also reserved four berths for LNG tonnage at Samsung Heavy Industries, in addition to options on two more berths.

Russian owner Sovcomflot (SCF Group) working in partnership with Japan’s NYK Line has been linked to the SHI slots and an announcement on these vessels is expected.

Old friends

MOL and Novatek are old associates on Arctic business.

The Japanese owner has built both Arc7 and conventional LNG vessels for charter to Novatek’s Yamal LNG.

MOL kicked off with three of the first 15 Arc7 vessels for Yamal LNG in 2017. It later added another four conventional LNG carriers to its charter haul with Novatek. In November 2020, MOL added another three Arc7s to its tally with the Russian gas giant.

But this time the vessels have been contracted for Novatek’s under-construction, 19.8-million-tonne-per-annum Arctic LNG 2 project on the Gydan Peninsula, to the east of Yamal LNG.

In September, MOL signed a letter of intent with Russia's State Transport Leasing Co to take a 49% stake in two supersize LNG floating storage units — under construction at DSME — for Arctic shipments.

The FSUs will be stationed at either end of the Northern Sea Route (NSR), at Murmansk in the west and Kamchatka in the east.

Novatek plans to transship cargoes produced at Yamal and Arctic LNG 2 on its specialised ice-breaking fleet of Arc7 LNG carriers onto the two FSUs.

The new Arc4 vessels would load at the FSUs and ship the LNG to final buyers, leaving the Arc7s to work in the icier waters. The Russian gas giant is building up a sizeable shipping fleet approaching 50 vessels as it prepares to launch the three-train Arctic LNG 2 project in 2023.

Russia has ambitions to produce 140 mtpa of LNG by 2035 and plans to grab market share by using the NSR as a quick shipping route to Asia and Europe.

The government is pushing to see the NSR opened up to year-round navigation between 2024 and 2030 and has put state atomic energy corporation Rosatom in charge of executing its plans.