Russian-owned pipelaying barge Fortuna is scheduled to start laying a segment of the Nord Stream 2 subsea pipeline in Danish maritime waters on 15 January 2021

The move follows months of preparations by Russia's Gazprom to circumvent US sanctions against the project, its contractors and suppliers.

The Gazprom-led Nord Stream 2 project partners informed the Danish authorities that Fortuna would lay the pipeline along the 49-kilometre route to the south of the Bornholm Island, the Danish Maritime Authority said in a navigational statement to mariners on 22 December.

Fortuna will be assisted by two other Russian support vessels, Baltiysky Issledovatel and Murman, with the notice being served to warn other ships about maintaining a minimum safe distance from the three Russian vessels.

The barge is currently laying the pipeline for Nord Stream 2 in German waters, and is located about 14 kilometres away from the entry point to Danish waters where the construction is set to be resumed, according to the notice.

Based on earlier pipeline data provided by Nord Stream 2 to the Danish Maritime Authority, the Fortuna’s task will be to complete the first leg of the project that will connect to the end of the existing pipeline already on the seabed.

That existing pipeline, coming from Swedish waters, was installed by Swiss marine contractor Allseas in December 2019 before it had decided to halt work and terminate its contract with Nord Stream 2 on the eve of the introduction of US sanctions against the Russian project.

Industry observers expect that another Russian vessel, Akademik Chersky, might join Fortuna later in January or in February to lay the second line of Nord Stream 2 along the route of about 68 kilometres in Danish waters, with a separate notice to be served to Danish Maritime Authority.

Nord Stream 2 earlier this year upgraded the Chersky with an eight-anchor positioning system in the German port of Mukran, with the pipelaying vessel currently waiting to join the construction near the Baltic coast of the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad.

The operator is understood to hold all necessary stock of heavy concrete-coated pipe in Mukran, its core logistics base, to be able to complete the construction and move into the commissioning phase.

Fahrhafen Sassnitz Port Authority, that operates Mukran, and local contractors are expected to come into the spotlight once Nord Stream 2 construction restarts in Danish waters as the US had promised to hit them with strong sanctions for their reluctance to refuse to assist with the project.

Meanwhile, any US action against Fortuna and Chersky may have receded as both vessels have changed their owners to obscure privately held firms in Russia.

These firms are owned by Russian individuals with no direct links to Gazprom, that previously owned Chersky, or the country’s building contractor Mezhregiontruboprovodstroy - a long-time operator of Fortuna.

US President Donald Trump has pushed out until the end of this month the validation of recently approved sanctions targeting insurance and certification companies that may provide services to Nord Stream 2, as he vetoed the US National Defence Authorisation Act on 23 December.

The Act that contains a clause on Nord Stream 2 is now expected to be enacted after 28 December when Congress is due to meet to override the veto.

Unnamed officials in the Trump administration told Reuters that Washington is readying a fresh round of congressionally mandated sanctions “in the very near future” that it believes could deal a fatal blow to the pipeline project.

Nord Stream 2 is set to double direct Russian gas export pipeline capacity to Germany to 110 billion cubic metres once it comes into operation.

However, Gazprom might only use half of that capacity.

Being both a producer and the project's owner, European gas market regulations require the Russian giant to allocate the other half of pipeline capacity to third parties.

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