Gazprom-led pipeline operator Nord Stream 2 has confirmed a plan to start laying small segments of the gas export pipeline in German waters, despite escalating threats of sanctions form the US against the controversial Russian project.

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The segments could start being laid from as early as the end of this week after notices were issued by the operator to shipping in the Baltic Sea to be on the alert for such activity in an area south of Adlergrund, Germany.

Two segments of the pipeline, each running for 2.6 kilometres, are set to be installed in shallow waters to complete the connection between shore and the deep-water area.

Nord Stream 2 has not disclosed what vessels will be used in the operation, or its reasons for looking to complete these short segments while a longer part of the pipeline remains uncompleted in Danish maritime waters.

Vessel upgrade

The US introduced sanctions against the project last year and tightened them this year, prompting Nord Stream 2 to modernise the Russian-owned pipelaying vessel Akademik Chersky to enable it to operate both in shallow and deep waters, as international contractors were unwilling to take the risk of falling foul of sanctions.

The Chersky moved from the German port of Mukran to the shore of the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad at the end of last week, according to vessel tracking services, suggesting it is carrying pipes from the port that serves as Nord Stream 2’s main logistics base.

“We are planning to resume pipe-laying work, using a vessel with anchor positioning in Germany’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ)," Nord Stream 2 said.

Chersky has had eight anchors installed during its upgrade earlier this year, with additions made to its existing dynamic positioning system.

Danish jobs

Industry observers suggested that Nord Stream 2 may use the Chersky for the announced job to gauge whether upgrades to the vessel’s positioning, pipe-handling and welding equipment are working properly before moving the vessel to Danish waters.

Last week, Norway's risk management and quality assurance firm DNV GL said that it will not inspect and certify the compliance of Chersky’s upgrades to its standards, as this work falls under the scope of US sanctions.

In Danish waters, Nord Stream 2 has to complete another two segments of the pipeline — each of 80 kilometres — that were abandoned in December last year by Swiss maritime contractor Allseas on the eve of the introduction of US sanctions against the project.

Sanctions shelter proposed

There are indications in Germany, however, that the construction of the Danish segment of the pipeline may not be resumed immediately after the completion of scheduled works to allow time for authorities in the region of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania to shelter local contractors, providing support to Nord Stream 2, from the US sanctions.

German broadcaster NDR 1 Radio reported that the regional authorities have pushed forward a plan to establish a non-profit foundation to provide cover for contractors and act on their behalf, with Social Democratic Party politician Erwin Sellering becoming its head.

Meanwhile, besides the Chersky, Nord Stream 2 may opt for another Russian-owned vessel — pipelaying barge Fortuna — that is currently moored nearby in the German port of Wismar.

Fortuna had previously laid shallow-water pipeline segments for Nord Stream 2 and Gazprom’s earlier pipeline project Nord Stream.