Shipping company Mitsui O.S.K. Lines Ltd. put an ice-breaking tanker into service in the Arctic Ocean on Thursday to transport liquefied natural gas from a Russian plant to Europe, becoming the first Japanese firm to own and operate such a vessel.

The Vladimir Rusanov will deliver LNG from a gas plant in Sabbeta on Russia's Yamal Peninsula to a port in Rotterdam in the Netherlands using an Arctic route that shortens the travel time between Europe and Asia.

The vessel, named after a Russian Arctic explorer and geologist, is one of three ice-breaking tankers Mitsui has ordered for the Yamal LNG project led by Russian natural gas producer Novatek.

The project, which began operations in December last year, will involve an order for 15 of the ice-breaking LNG tankers with an eye toward expanding routes eastward to Asia.

The Vladimir Rusanov, jointly owned by a Chinese shipping company, is expected to deliver LNG from the Yamal plant year-round. During the summer, it is able to sail to East Asia via the Bering Strait.

Manufactured by South Korean firm Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering Co., the 299-meter-long, 50-meter-wide vessel is capable of sailing in seas with ice up to 2.1 meters thick.