*Sovcomflot to ship 300-400,000 tonnes condensate via Arctic
*Icebreakers to clear way for Novatek's cargoes
*Arctic route more expensive than Suez-Sovcomflot official
By Jessica Bachman
MOSCOW, April 20 (Reuters) - Russia's Sovcomflot will ship 3-4 cargoes of stable gas condensate from northwest Russia to Asia via the Arctic sea this year on behalf of Novatek NOTK.MM a senior Sovcomflot official said on Wednesday.
"We are planning to ship between 300,000 and 400,000 tonnes this year," he told reporters on the sidelines of a conference on the Russian Arctic.
Each 100,000-tonne cargo of condensate will be shipped between the warm-weather months of July and November, when the ice cover is more manageable, he said.
This year's first shipment will mark the second voyage ever of a tanker carrying hydrocarbons across the so-called Northern Sea Route, which trims 4,000 nautical miles (7,400 km) from the 11,000-mile journey via the Suez Canal.
Last August Novatek, Russia's second largest gas producer, loaded 70,000 tonnes of gas condensate produced from its Arctic deposits onto a high-tonneage Sovcomflot tanker in Russia's northern port city of Murmansk.
The tanker, escorted by a nuclear ice breaker, arrived in the Chukotka region in the Eastern part of the Arctic Ocean 13 days later. From there it was shipped south to the Chinese port of Ningbo. [ID:nMSC000038]
"After the voyage, the tanker went into repairs," Ambrosov said, later adding that the repairs were planned rather than a result of the voyage.
He also said that shipping via the Northern Sea Route is a more expensive, but less-time consuming way to ship to Asia than through the Suez Canal.
"It (the cost) is about the same as what they (Novatek) would pay to go through the south, through the Suez Canal, a little more," Ambrosov said.
"There is no commercial sense because the rate to ship along the Northern Sea Route is higher. This is because rates for the tanker, the rate for the ice breaker, they come out to be more expensive."
Novatek is testing the route as part of an ambitious project - known as Yamal LNG - to produce liquefied gas in the gas-rich peninsula.
The company, which sold a 25.1 percent stake in the project to French major Total (TOTF.PA), plans to produce up to 16 million tonnes of frozen gas a year by 2015-2017, surpassing Sakhalin-2, which is led by Gazprom (GAZP.MM) and has an annual capacity of 9.6 million tonnes.
In an interview aboard the nuclear ice breaker that led the first tanker down the Northern Sea Route last August, Novatek head Leonid Mikhelson said that it would be 10 to 15 percent cheaper to ship via the Arctic compared with transit through the straits. (Reporting by Jessica Bachman)