The Gazprom-owned operator of the controversial Nord Stream 2 subsea gas export pipeline from Russia to Germany is pressing ahead with laying the project's remaining pipe segments in German waters, despite the threat of US sanctions.

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Construction activities started on 11 December, the operator said. It is using vessels owned by little-known private companies incorporated in Russia as the project remains under sanctions pressure from the US.

The operator has selected the pipe-laying barge Fortuna to place two 2.6 kilometre segments of the pipeline in about 20 metres of water.

The barge is accompanied by a fleet of three supporting vessels — Baltiysky Issledovatel, Katun and Umka.

Reports in Moscow have pointed to a Russian registered limited liability company, Universalnaya Transportnaya Gruppa, as the current owner and operator of the Fortuna.

Fortuna capability

Technically, the Fortuna may be able to continue laying the pipe in neighbouring Denmark’s sector of the Baltic Sea as soon as its current assignment is completed, according to industry observers in Moscow.

The vessel is capable of laying pipelines in water depths of up to 200 metres, according to Russian contractor Mezhregiontruboprovodstroy, which operated the barge before the middle of this year.

The water depth where two 80-kilometre lines of Nord Stream 2 have to be laid does not exceed 70 metres.

Earlier this year, Nord Stream 2 obtained permission from Danish Energy Agency to use an anchor positioning vessel, such as Fortuna, for the pipelaying job in the country’s waters.

Preparations for laying the segment in Danish waters were abruptly halted in December last year after Swiss maritime contractor Allseas resolved to comply with US sanctions against the project.

Chersky on standby

Another Russian-owned pipelaying vessel, Akademik Chersky, remains on standby near the Baltic Sea coast of the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, accompanied by another support vessel, Finval, according to maritime traffic data.

The Chersky was upgraded earlier this year in the German port of Mukran with an anchor-positioning system and pipe-handling and welding equipment to be able to work with heavy concrete-coated pipes for the project.

Nord Stream 2 has not specified the expected time it will need to complete the pipelay work in German waters.

Sanctions delayed

A new round of US sanctions, targeting insurance and quality control and compliance firms that provide service to Nord Stream, has yet to be enacted by Washington.

That US National Defense Authorisation Act, which includes a section on sanctions against the pipeline project, passed the US Congress on Friday, giving Trump 10 days — excluding Sundays — to sign, veto or allow it to become law without his signature.

Trump has already tweeted that he would veto the bill despite it collecting the two-thirds majority of votes in the Congress, on reasons that are not related to Nord Stream 2.