By Jim Shaw 

Icebreakers – Expanding the World's Fleet


Russia's new 15-knot MPSV06 vessels, represented by the recently completed Beringov Proliv, are powered by a diesel/electric propulsion system incorporating four diesel generators of 10.6MW output driving twin ABB Azipods mounted aft and two bow thrusters forward. Photo courtesy of Nordic Yards.

The US needs new icebreakers but they may be a long time in coming. Although President Obama proposed speeding the acquisition and building of new Coast Guard icebreakers during a visit to Alaska last year, and Senators Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow have since called for funding to build a new icebreaker for the Great Lakes, the head of the Coast Guard's acquisition office, Rear Admiral Mike Haycock, said production of a new heavy icebreaker might be at least five years off with a construction cost estimate of more than a billion dollars. Until then, the Coast Guard will have to make due with the 40-year-old Polar Star, a Seattle-based ship that has been living off spare parts provided by its retired sister ship Polar Sea.

Other countries, particularly Russia, are not waiting that long. Using its own building facilities, as well as yards in nearby Finland and Germany, Russia has been turning out a large number of ice-capable ships, with more than 40 now in service and a dozen more to come, including the new nuclear-powered 120 MW Leader-class. This ship, plus sisters, is expected to be operational on the country's Northern Sea Route by 2024.

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Finland, an arctic specialist, is nearing completion of the world's first LNG-powered icebreaker for its own account while several of its arctic specialist companies have been assisting other countries with their icebreaker projects. These include new research icebreakers for Russia, Australia, Argentina, China, Canada, Norway, Peru and the United Kingdom as well as the European Union's revised Aurora Borealis project.


Russia, with a busy commercial sea passage on its northern frontier as well as major commercial undertakings in the ice-prone Baltic and western Pacific, has been investing substantial sums to build up the world's largest icebreaker fleet. Within this program is the ongoing construction of a series of icebreaking Multi-Purpose Salvage Vessels (MPSV) that are being completed in three classes known as the MPSV06s, MPSV07s and MPSV12s, with the MPSV06s being the largest. Of the latter, Russia's Amur Shipbuilding has been constructing the first of the class, the 86-meter (282-foot) by 19.1-meter (63-foot) Spasatel Petr Gruzinskiy, at its facility on the Amur River while Germany's Nordic Yards at Wismar has already finished sister ships Beringov Proliv and Murman. Each of the 1,370-dwt vessels carries two large cranes for salvage work as well as a landing platform for helicopters, which is mounted forward. They have also been given the capability of handling remotely-operated underwater vehicles from hangars and have decompression facilities installed for deepwater divers. Although Spasatel Petr Gruzinskiy remains to be delivered, Russia's Sea Rescue Service has based Beringov Proliv at Korsakov, on Sakhalin Island, and Murman at Murmansk.

Multi-Purpose Icebreakers

The four slightly smaller MPSV07 ships, Spasatel Karev, Spasatel Kavdeykin, Spasatel Zaborschikov and Spasatel Demidov, have all now entered service following the latter ship's completion by the Nevsky Shipyard in Schlüsselburg last year. These 1,171-dwt vessels measure 73-meters by 16.6-meters and have a sea endurance of 20 days as well as the capability of supporting underwater diving operations to depths down to 300 meters. The first three have been based at Novorossiysk, Murmansk and Vladivostok with the final unit still to be assigned.

The 1,820-dwt MPSV12 class, to measure 79.85-meters by 17.36-meters, have yet to be completed but will be shallow-draft vessels when delivered in 2018, with the first two now under construction at the Nevsky Shipyard near Saint Petersburg. They will have a speed of 14 knots while operating on a maximum draft of 4.50 meters (14.7 feet) and are expected to be deployed at Russia's major river estuary ports located in the arctic as well as in the Azov and Caspian seas.

Port Icebreakers

Already commissioned at Saint Petersburg is the first of Russia's three 21900M project icebreakers, the diesel-powered Vladivostok, built for FSUE Rosmorport by the Vyborg Shipyard in cooperation with Finland's Arctech Helsinki yard. The similar Murmansk, built in Finland, is being outfitted at Saint Petersburg and will be followed by sister Novorossiysk later this year. Known for its expertise in building ice ships, the Vyborg yard has also been chosen to build a series of icebreaking platform supply vessels for the Sakhalin projects in the western Pacific, as well as two port icebreakers for the Yamal LNG project in northern Russia.

The former will be up-dated versions of the already delivered Aleksey Chirikov and Vitus Bering, both of about 4,200-dwt and now operating in the Sea of Okhotsk, while the latter will be ship-assist vessels that will berth and un-berth ice-classed LNG carriers at the Port of Sabetta on the western shore of the Ob estuary. To accomplish this the Sabetta ships will be fitted with a rather complex propulsion system that will consist of four ABB Azipods of 3 MW each, two in the bow and two in stern, while power will be furnished by three 8-cylinder Wärtsilä' 31 engines fitted with ABB's Power2 800-M two-stage turbocharging systems.

The vessels will also make use of ABB's Onboard DC Grid system which, besides providing space and weight savings, will allow the main engines to run at variable speeds rather than at one fixed speed.

World's Strongest Icebreakers

Russia has a number of other icebreakers under construction or in the planning stage, including the multi-purpose nuclear-powered Arktika, being built by the Baltic Shipyard (see Pacific Maritime Magazine, Jan. 2013) and the nuclear-powered 120 MW Leader-class, still on the drawing board. The latter ship is being designed by the Krylov State Research Center in cooperation with the Central Design Bureau Iceberg OJSC and is intended to operate year-around along the entire Northern Sea Route where its main customers are expected to be large capacity commercial vessels of more than 100,000 deadweight. For this duty it will have the ability to break through 2-meter thick ice at an economically efficient speed of about 10 knots.

Although machinery specifics have not been disclosed the ship is being designed in such a manner that all materials and major equipment needed for its construction can be supplied by domestic companies. Russia's Atomflot is interested in quick construction of the vessel and expects detailed design work to commence this year, with the new icebreaker entering service by 2024. The ship will follow Arktika and its two sisters, which are expected to enter service in 2018, 2020 and 2021, although Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin recently moved these dates forward to next year for Arktika and 2019 and 2020 for the remaining two.

With dual-draft capability, these heavy icebreakers will be suitable for operations both in the Barents, Pechora and Kara Seas as well as the shallow waters of the Yenisei river estuary and Ob Bay.


China, which has been making considerable commercial use of the Northern Sea Route and also maintains three permanent research stations in Antarctica, operates the ice-strengthened Xuelong, which it purchased from the Ukraine in 1993, but it is also preparing to build a dedicated research icebreaker. The design for this 122-meter by 22.3-meter ship has been entrusted to Finland's Aker arctic Technology and China's MARIC, with construction expected to take place in Shanghai.

Drawing on Aker arctic's expertise, the vessel will employ double-acting technology to break level ice at least 1.5 meters thick, ahead or astern, at two to three knots. Two azimuthing propeller drives of about 15MW will draw power from four main generating sets while heavy twin skegs fitted aft will be used to protect the propulsors from multi-year ice blocks.

In open water, the ship should to be able to achieve 12 knots using a single main genset, and 15 knots on two, while all four will be used for icebreaking in the toughest conditions. For resupplying operations container capacity will be provided forward, along with a deck crane, while a second crane and A-frame will be mounted aft for marine sampling.

The newbuilding will be completed to ice class PC3 standards and will have dual classification from the China Classification Society and Lloyd's Register. It will be owned by China's State Oceanic Administration and will be used by both the Chinese arctic and Antarctic Administration and the Polar Research Institute of China.


Like China, Australia has no need of an icebreaker to keep its own sea lanes open but it has had a long-term involvement in Antarctica through the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) of its Australian Department of the Environment. This agency has regularly chartered the 8,158-ton displacement research icebreaker Aurora Australis, a 311.4-foot (94.9m) by 67-foot (20.3m) ship built for P&O Maritime Services by Australia's Carrington Slipways in 1989. The agency is now negotiating with DMS Maritime, a subsidiary of Serco Australia, for a new icebreaker that will replace the 27-year-old Aurora Australis by its 30th birthday in 2019.

The new 23,400 ton displacement ship, designed by Denmark's Knud E. Hansen and expected to be built by the Damen Group's yard at Galati, Romania, will be larger, faster and stronger than the P&O vessel and will also offer increased endurance and more expansive facilities for scientists. It will also carry a multi-beam bathymetric echo sounder for seafloor mapping.

Under a proposed agreement to be concluded this year DMS Maritime will cover the design, construction, operation and maintenance of the A$500 million ship, which will be chartered by the AAD on a long-term basis. To measure 512 feet (156m) by 84 feet (25.6m) the vessel will be able to break ice 1.65 meters thick at 3 knots compared to Aurora Australis' 1.23 meters at 2.5 knots, and will be equipped with two landing craft and a dedicated science tender. It will also have a helicopter hangar and flight deck located aft and a cargo hold of 1,200 tons capacity situated forward, the latter served by two deck cranes.


In Europe, the PIRIOU yard at Concarneau, France has been contracted by the French government to build a 72-meter-long polar logistics and patrol icebreaker for Terre Australes et Antarctiques Françaises (TAAF) and the French Polar Institute (IPEV) with the vessel to be operated by the French Navy when completed in late 2017.

Based on a concept design issued by Marine Assistance (France), the new icebreaker will utilize propulsion equipment to be supplied by Finland's Wärtsilä, including four Wärtsilä 20 main engines fitted with Wärtsilä NOx Reducer systems and two stainless steel propellers that will conform to the Bureau Veritas (BV) icebreaker 5 ice class rules. The new ship will have accommodation for 60 persons and a cargo capacity of 1,200 tons. Its first task is expected to be a resupply mission to the French Dumont d'Urville station in Antarctica.


Across the channel, UK naval architecture consultancy firm Houlder has drawn up a concept design for a new British icebreaker that will take over the roles of two existing polar ships, the 5,732-gt James Clark Ross, built in Britain in 1990, and the Norwegian-built Ernest Shackleton, a 21-year-old vessel employed under long-term charter. The new ship will be approximately 130 meters in length and will employ a diesel-electric propulsion system in combination with a highly strengthened hull to enable it to push deeper into pack ice than any previous British research vessel.

Current specifications call for the vessel to be able to sustain a three-knot speed while breaking through ice floes up to 2 meters thick and to offer a maximum endurance of 80 days, or 60 days in polar regions. Additionally, it will be equipped with a helipad, deck cranes, onboard labs and will be capable of deploying ROVs.

Britain's Cammell Laird yard at Birkenhead has been chosen to build the £200 million ship and will begin cutting steel later this year in order to deliver the icebreaker before the end of 2019. It will be operated by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) but will be available to the entire UK research community.


Norway does not have a large need for icebreaking capability as its coastline is relatively ice-free throughout the year, but the Norwegian Coast Guard operates the 2002-built ice-strengthened patrol vessel KV Svalbard in the arctic waters north of Norway. With a displacement of 6,375 tons, and using two ABB Azipods driven by four diesel/generator sets, the ship can break through smooth ice 1-meter thick. A similar capability has been specified for the new Polar research vessel FF Kronprins Haakon currently under construction by Italy's Fincantieri for the Norwegian Institute of Marine Research.

Due for delivery next year, the 100-meter by 21-meter ship is being completed to a Rolls-Royce NVC 395 POLAR design and will make use of two Bergen B32:40L9ACD and two Bergen B32:40L6ACD diesel generator sets to drive azimuthing main thrusters as well as tunnel thrusters. This will give it a capability to maintain five knots through 1-meter thick ice and up to 12 knots when breaking ice of 0.4-meter thickness. Once delivered it will be employed in environmental research at the North and South Polar regions by the Norwegian Polar Institute and the arctic University of Norway.

European Polar Research Icebreaker

Over the past decade the European Union (EU) has been developing the design of a polar research icebreaker under the European Research Icebreaker Consortium (ERICON-AB) project, with most of the preparatory funding and design input coming from Germany. A principal feature of the new EU ship, to be named Aurora Borealis, has been the incorporation of a core drilling tower, but unacceptably high costs have led to a downsized version of the ship in order to cut its estimated €800 million cost to below €500 million. A revised design has since been accomplished by Finland's Aker arctic Technology without compromising too many of the scientific goals behind the original concept.

A major change has been in size and propulsion, with the latest version of the ship calling for a displacement of 42,000 tons powered by triple 15-mW Azipod units compared to the original 65,000 ton displacement design and three fixed-pitch propellers driven by three 27-mW electric motors. The total installed power for the vessel has been reduced from 101-mW to 58.5-mW and the original six 4.5-mW retractable transverse thrusters reduced to three of 3.5-mW.

The latest design also provides for running the ship on LNG for at least one week with the fuel to be stored in special tank containers carried on deck. Although operational costs for the latest version of Aurora Borealis are projected to be nearly 45 percent less than the initial design the icebreaking performance is anticipated to be similar, with the new version able to maintain two to three knots through 2.5-meter-thick ice. However, the drilling tower will be replaced by removable drilling equipment, although at a substantial reduction in drilling depth, while just one moonpool will be fitted to the ship rather than the original two.

An Aker ARC 124 design is being used in combination with Wärtsilä' powerplants and ABB Azipods for two new ship-assist icebreaking tugs being built by a partnership formed by Finland's Arctech Helsinki Shipyard and Russia's Vyborg Shipyard for operation on the Ob estuary. Photo courtesy of Arctech Helsinki.


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