Gazprom, the Russian owner-operator of the Nord Stream 2 subsea gas export pipeline, has resumed pipelaying on the 49-kilometre segment in Danish maritime waters despite last week's toughening of US sanctions against the project.

Russian-owned pipelay barge Fortuna has restarted construction to the south of the Island of Bornholm in the Baltic Sea at the point where it was halted in December 2019 after Swiss marine contractor Allseas abandoned the project on the eve of approval of the first round of US sanctions.

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Nord Stream 2 has confirmed the restart of pipelaying work, however it provided no comment on when it expects the work on the segment to be completed.

Earlier reports suggested that Fortuna is expected to lay just 400 metres of pipe per day on the seabed as it uses an anchor-positioning system to slow move itself along the route.

A second Russian pipelay vessel, Akademik Chersky, this weekend arrived at the German port of Wismar as it is anticipated to move to Danish waters to work on the second, 68-kilometre uncompleted segment.

During 2020, the vessel’s equipment and positioning systems were upgraded in the German port of Mukran to enable it to handle Nord Stream 2's concrete-coated heavy pipes and currents in the Baltic Sea.

Last week, the US administration passed a new set of sanctions targeting Fortuna and Nord Stream 2 contractors although it provided no indication on possible action against Chersky.

European Parliament resolution

Also last week, members of the European Parliament voted for a resolution, calling for the immediate halt of Nord Stream 2 in response to the arrest of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

Navalny, who spent over five months in Germany recovering from poisoning with a military grade nerve agent, was detained minutes after he arrived to the Sheremetyevo airport near Moscow on 18 January.

"The European Parliament calls on the EU and its member states to critically review cooperation with Russia in various foreign policy platforms and on projects such as Nord Stream 2, the completion of which the EU must stop immediately," the approved resolution said.

Clock ticking

According to industry observers, Nord Stream 2 is aiming to complete the pipelay work in the Baltic Sea as fast as possible while the project remains excluded from possible European sanctions because of objections from Germany, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other officials insisting that it remains a private project.

"My basic attitude has not yet changed in such a way that I would say that the project [Nord Stream 2] should not happen," Merkel told reporters at the end of last week.

"We must put everything on the table and talk [with the new US administration] about whether we want to have no trade with Russia in the gas sector at all and what dependence is tolerable."

However, Merkel is not expected to seek re-election as Chancellor in the upcoming parliamentary elections that are scheduled for the end of September.

According to Gazprom, Nord Stream 2 will increase security of supply for European customers by removing Ukraine as a transit country from the delivery chain.

The gas giant said that its first subsea pipeline project across the Baltic Sea to Germany, Nord Stream, set another record in 2020, with 59.2 billion cubic metres of gas shipped against its annual nameplate capacity of 55 Bcm.