Russian gas tycoon Leonid Mikhelson's plan to send new living quarters modules to the country's Antarctic research centre have come unstuck after the nuclear-powered vessel on which they were being transported suffered equipment failure off the west coast of Africa.
The Russian-owned carrier Sevmorput is now on its way back to St Petersburg with the kit after propeller problems forced it to turn around off Angola.
Mikhelson — who is chairman and a shareholder in Russia's largest independent gas producer, Novatek — sold almost 1% of the company’s stock in January, raising an estimated €257 million ($300 million) to finance construction of the modules.
The Sevmorput — carrying the modules and a replacement team of Russian Antarctic researchers — had reported damage to one of the four propeller blades more than halfway into its voyage.
Replacing the propeller or blade proved impossible in Africa as the Sevmorput is prohibited from docking anywhere outside of Russia because of the presence of the nuclear unit on board.
While the team of researchers continued their journey to Antarctica aboard another vessel, Russian officials are now scrambling to arrange an alternative delivery for the modules.
It seems that Novatek — which has proven adept at developing multi-billion-dollar LNG projects in the Russian Arctic — may be blameless for the high-profile hiccup, as the selection of the Sevmorput was reportedly based on the government's wish to put it back into operation, rather than on any commercial grounds.
The Sevmorput was almost scrapped in 2013 as it had no employment due to excessive operating costs. However, authorities then decided to spend millions of dollars on upgrades and it returned to service in 2016.
It is not the first time this year that Novatek has been let down by domestic suppliers, however. The company’s plan to commission a fourth train at its flagship Yamal LNG project suffered a delay after Russian-made compressors reportedly failed during commissioning work.