Russian-owned pipelay barge Fortuna has moved into Germany's sector of the Baltic Sea following the completion of work on the Danish side for the highly contentious gas export pipeline project, Nord Stream 2.

Nord Stream 2 is politically sensitive as the US views the Gazprom-led project as a threat to European energy security.

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The Fortuna is expected to lay a two-kilometre segment of the pipeline, completing the deep-water pipelay work that was interrupted in December 2019 by Swiss specialised contractor Allseas as the US prepared sanctions against the project’s contractors.

Despite the slow pace of construction, the Fortuna remains on schedule to lay a shorter segment of the twin pipeline, with the project's eponymous operator Nord Stream 2 saying in a previous notice to Danish Maritime Authority that it expects the vessel to complete the assignment before the end of May.

Plans to use the Fortuna in the future are unclear as the vessel and its obscure owner in Russia remain under US sanctions, so it may only be used for work for Russian companies or operators in China or Asia.

Second leg

Another Russian pipelay vessel, the Akademik Chersky, is continuing pipelaying operations along a longer unfinished segment south-east of Bornholm Island in the Baltic Sea, according to vessel tracking websites.

Nord Stream 2 said earlier that the vessel is expected to complete its assignment before the end of September.

At the end of the last week, the US included th Akademik Chersky and another 12 supporting vessels — mostly owned by Russian state Marine Rescue Service — on an updated list of sanctioned entities for their work on Nord Stream 2.

However, sanctions are not expected to affect the Akademik Chersky, which may sail to Sakhalin Island off Russia's far east to lay subsea pipelines on Gazprom’s Kirinsky offshore block.

Gazprom intends to develop the block using subsea production templates, according to industry observers in Moscow, with the pipeline assignments on Kirinsky to last for several years because of the short summer ice-free navigation season.

US reaction

Most of the sanctioned support vessels have remained near the Fortuna and Akademik Chersky in the Baltic Sea this week despite the US action against them and their owners, according to vessel tracking information.

Last week’s refusal of US President Joe Biden’s administration to issue sanctions against the project’s operator Nord Stream 2 and its chief executive officer Matthias Warnig have stirred strong criticism on Capitol Hill.

Republican Senator Kevin Cramer announced that he is leading the Protecting Our Well-being by Expanding Russian Sanctions Act together with 13 other members of the US Congress.

According to Cramer, this legislation will “build on recently-passed bipartisan sanctions against Russia and reinstate sanctions the Biden administration is waiving on Russian people and entities involved in the construction of Nord Stream 2”.