Pacific Maritime Magazine - Marine Business for the Operations Sector

By Jim Shaw 

Who Will Rule the North?


Photo courtesy of Rosmorport.

A series of KL-16 diesel-powered icebreakers to be built by the JSC Vyborg Shipyard will carry a helicopter landing platform forward and deck space for cargo containers aft. Photo courtesy of Rosmorport.

Russia has launched a major icebreaker construction program to replace a number of its vessels built in the 1970s as well as produce the world’s strongest icebreaker. It has also sent one of its most secret nuclear submarines, the titanium-hulled Losharik, to collect samples of geological material on the Mendeleyev ridge under the arctic Ocean to prove Russian ownership of the ridge, which stretches across the East Siberia Sea towards the North Pole. Russia may use the data collected in its application to the UN Law of the Sea that within the next few years will divide the continental shelf among the arctic coastal states, including the North Pole itself. At the same time, the Northeast Passage, or the Northern Sea Route (NSR), has again set a new record for commercial ship and cargo traffic, with 35 ships carrying 1,022,577 tons of cargo recorded by the end of October, and at least five more ships expected to finish their transits in November, including the first LNG carrier. This compares to 820,789 tons of cargo transported by 34 vessels last year, with most of the tonnage increase this year accounted for by petroleum tankers taking advantage of unprecedented low ice levels. Looking at the possibility of year-around navigation in the arctic, Russia has launched a massive icebreaker construction program using European propulsion technology that is expected to see up to 27 new vessels built by 2030.

Lk-25 Diesel Icebreakers

In October, the Baltic Shipyard at St. Petersburg laid the keel of a new LK-25 (25MW) type diesel icebreaker which it will deliver to Russia’s state enterprise company Rosmorport in 2015. To have a full load displacement of 22,130 tons, the vessel will measure 142 meters by 29 meters and will operate on a maximum draft of 9.5 meters. The multifunctional diesel-electric ship will have accommodation for 38 crew as well as 90 specialized personnel. Switzerland’s ABB will provide two 7.5 MW Azipod thruster units for the vessel and these will operate in conjunction with one centerline shaft fitted with a fixed pitch propeller generating an additional 10-mW output.

The Azipod propulsion units have been specifically designed for use in extreme arctic ice conditions and will allow the ship to proceed continuously, both ahead and astern, at a speed of 2 knots in a compact ice field of up to 2 meters thick and in temperatures as low as minus 35 degrees Celsius.

Nuclear Icebreaker

Two months prior to the keel laying for LK-25, Russia’s nuclear power corporation Rosatom signed a contract with the Baltic Shipyard for construction of LK-60YA, to be the largest and most powerful nuclear icebreaker ever built. This $1.2 billion vessel, expected to take at least five years to construct, will measure 173-meters (568 feet) by 34-meters (112 feet), making it 14 meters longer and 4 meters wider than the 2007-built 50 Years of Victory, currently the world’s largest icebreaker.

To have a displacement of 33,540 tons, the LK-60 type will be capable of breaking through ice up to 2.8 meters thick at a speed of between 1.5 and 2 knots while having the ability to crush through ice up to 4 meters thick. It will be fitted with two RITM-200 pressurized water reactors to power a three-shaft propulsion arrangement. The reactor design has been developed by OKBM Afrikantov and integrates some main components into the reactor vessel to produce 60 mW for the motor-driven propellers. It will operate on fuel enriched to less than 20 percent uranium-235 and thus will require refueling every seven years over a 40-year projected lifespan.

As much of northern Russia’s commercial cargo is moved in and out of shallow river estuary ports the new icebreaker will utilize a specialized ballast system to provide operating drafts of between 8.5 and 10.5 meters, with the shallower draft to be used in river estuary work, particularly off the Yenisei River mouth and in Ob Bay, while the deeper draft will be used in the Barents, Pechora and Kara seas. The new ship’s wider beam will allow it to independently break paths for petroleum tankers with displacements of up to 70,000 tons. Three of the LK-60 series are expected to eventually be built, with the second and third ships following in 2019 and 2020.

Multipurpose Icebreakers

A third Russian icebreaker project centers around a series of ships to be built by the JSC Vyborg Shipyard, where a keel-laying ceremony for the first vessel was celebrated in October. These LK-16 ships are to measure 119.9-meters by 27.5-meters and operate on a designed draft of 8.5-meters. Finland’s Wärtsilä will be providing integrated power and automation systems for two icebreakers, including four 12-cylinder Wärtsilä 32 main engines and two 4-cylinder Wärtsilä 20 auxiliary gensets, with the possibility that a third LK-16 will be built. Scheduled for delivery in 2015, these 5,340-dwt vessels will operate mainly in the Baltic Sea and western arctic. To have a displacement of about 14,000 tons, they will incorporate two azimuthing rudder propellers as well as a bow thruster to give an icebreaking capability of up to 1.5 meters. Although primarily designed for the independent escorting of heavy commercial vessels, the LK-16 class will also be fitted out for firefighting and salvage work as well as limited cargo carrying ability. They will be upgraded versions of the Project 21900 icebreakers, Moskva and St. Petersburg, which were completed in 2008 and 2009 as the first icebreakers with diesel-electric power plants to have been built at a Russian Shipyard in over three decades.

Oblique Icebreaker


With little solid ice to worry about, a growing number of ships made use of the Northern Sea Route this past season, including the 75,603-dwt Nordic Odyssey, Ex-Sanko Odyssey, which was transporting iron ore from Murmansk to Huanghua, China. Rosatomflot.

A fourth icebreaker project involves construction of the world’s first oblique icebreaker, which began this past summer at the JSC Yantar Shipyard in Kaliningrad. This 250-feet by 67-feet vessel will have three Z-drives that will be able to push its asymmetric-shaped hull sideways to create a 50-meter-wide channel in ice 0.6-meters thick while escorting other vessels. It will be powered by three diesel-electric power plants developing a total of about 12,000-HP and will be used for icebreaking as well as oil-spill response and rescue/salvage operations in the Gulf of Finland. In coming months the hull will be towed from the Yantar yard to the Arctech Helsinki Shipyard in Finland for final outfitting, with delivery expected by the end of 2013.

The Russian government has estimated that it will need up to 45 icebreakers by 2030 if it is to maintain its commercial ports in the arctic while exploiting the region’s natural resources and keeping the Northern Sea Route available on a year-around basis. It currently has 32 icebreakers in operation but expects at least 18 of these to be retired by 2030, necessitating the construction of at least 27 more.


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