Pacific Maritime Magazine - Marine Business for the Operations Sector

By Jim Shaw 

Promise of the Arctic: Ice-Capable Vessels


February 1, 2018

Due to be completed to Polar Class 3 standards next year, China's Xue Long 2 research vessel will be used to conduct both research and supply operations in Antarctica. Photo courtesy of Aker Arctic.

The project to acquire a new polar icebreaker was initiated in the US Coast Guard's FY 2013 budget submission and has received about $190.6 million in acquisition funding to date.

The Coast Guard's proposed FY 2018 budget requests $19 million in icebreaker acquisition funding for a single vessel the Coast Guard hopes to begin building in FY 2019. The total acquisition cost of a new polar icebreaker had been estimated informally at roughly $1 billion, but the Coast Guard and Navy now believe the ship could cost less than $1 billion.

While the US icebreaker program advances glacially through congress, other countries are hard at work preparing their fleets for either the coming ice-free arctic or next global cooling trend.

China Moves Forward With Icebreaker Construction

China's Jiangnan Shipyard expects to deliver the new Chinese polar research vessel Xue Long 2 to the Polar Research Institute of China next year, after which the ship will operate alongside the 8,759-dwt icebreaking cargo and supply vessel Xue Long, built by the Ukraine's Kherson Shipyard in 1993.

Designed by Finland's Aker arctic, and to measure 122-meters by 22-meters, the new research vessel will be capable of continuously breaking ice 1.5 meters thick in both ahead and astern directions using twin 7.5 MW ABB Azipods.

For research purposes it will be furnished with wet and dry laboratories as well as a moon pool to allow the deployment of a CTD Rossette to measure the salinity, temperature, depth and concentration of particles in water columns.

For supply missions the vessel will carry a heavy crane forward that will serve a cargo hold capable of holding both dry and liquid containers while the aft deck will mount an "A" frame for subsea sampling operations. Accommodation will be arranged for up to 90 scientists and crew while an aft upper landing platform will support helicopter operations. China has also indicated that it intends to move forward with the construction of nuclear-powered icebreakers and has said that agreements towards this goal have now been concluded with the country's National Nuclear Corporation and State Shipbuilding Corporation.

China Investigates the Poles

While awaiting completion of its new icebreaker by Shanghai's Jiangnan Shipyard, China has sent its existing icebreaker Xue Long (Snow Dragon) on a 31,000-nautical-mile expedition to Antarctica to visit four Chinese research stations while also accomplishing 72 research missions, one of which involves identifying an appropriate place to build a new Chinese station on the Ross Sea.

China also plans to build an astronomical observatory at the South Pole during the expedition, which involves nearly 275 people and is expected to conclude by mid-April.

Russia's Icebreaker Program Slowed by Sanctions

Russia expects to have its newest and most powerful icebreaker, Arktika, ready for service next year but has acknowledged that sanctions following political problems involving the Ukraine are making that date difficult. Because the icebreaker was ordered before the problems surfaced some Western-supplied equipment had been specified in the ship's design, equipment that Russia's state nuclear corporation Rosatom is now attempting to source domestically.

Fortunately, the delay in the ship's completion is coming at a time when the sanctions have also hit proposed oil and natural gas projects in the arctic involving a number of Western companies, with Atomflot already forced to lay up the 1990-built nuclear-powered Sovietsky Soyuz because of high maintenance costs and lack of work. Commercial transits of the Northeast Passage have also slackened, resulting in less need for nuclear or conventional icebreaker capacity. However, Russia still intends to move forward with construction of Arktika's sister ships, with the hull of Sibir now in the water at St Petersburg, and slated for commissioning in 2020, while Ural is expected to follow in 2021.

All three ships will be used to support the Yamal LNG project over the next two decades. Russia is also planning to continue development of its Project 10510 "Lider" class icebreakers which are being designed to move through ice as much as four meters thick by employing twin nuclear reactors of 110 MW total output (see pacific maritime magazine, Feb. 2017).

Russian Navy Icebreaker

Late last year the Russian Navy commissioned the Project 21180 icebreaker Ilya Muromets at the Admiralteyskie Verfi Shipyard in St. Petersburg during late November and has attached the vessel to the 566th Supply Ships Division of the Northern Fleet based at Murmansk.

The diesel/electric ship measures 84-meters by 20-meters, displaces 6,000 tons, and has an endurance of 60 days and a cruising range of 12,000 nautical miles. It is also capable of breaking 1.5-meter thick ice. However, the icebreaker, for which three sister ships were originally planned, is now expected to be the only Project 21180 vessel to be completed, with Russian defense authorities now more interested in the Project 23550 patrol ships, which have export potential. This is because Argentina, which has already been supplied with four Project B-92 Neftegaz-type ice-class tugs, has indicated interest in procuring an armed ice-class patrol ship as its existing icebreaker, the 40-year-old Almirante Irizar, has been under repair for over a decade, although the 14,899-displacement-ton vessel is expected to be operational in Antarctica this year.

Canada Modernizing Icebreakers

The Canadian Coast Guard is moving forward with a fleet life extension program involving ten of its 13 High Endurance Multi-Tasked vessels as well as its Heavy and Medium icebreakers. The upgrades will take place in succession between now and 2020 with Switzerland-headquartered ABB installing new hardware and software on the ships to modernization their propulsion power distribution systems. This will include the installation of new DC-drives and a Propulsion Control System (PCS) with work on the 38-year-old icebreaker CCGS Pierre Radisson already completed.

The next two vessels to undergo the process are expected to be CCGS Des Groseilliers and CCGS Amundsen, both now more than 30 years old. Each will see their existing control arrangement of six AC alternators with rectifiers supplying direct current to the motors retained but through upgraded breakers and contactors. In addition, the installation of new ABB drives will improve ship availability and extend operational endurance, which will allow the vessels to spend more time at sea.

During the refits ABB is attaching digital sensors to a variety of onboard equipment to provide shore-based engineers with a virtual presence on the ship to help diagnose any problems that may arise and thus reduce maintenance and repair costs.

Coast Guard Cutter Makes Use of Northwest Passage

The Northwest Passage has reached a stage in the late summer months when it is relatively free of ice, allowing large cruise ships to transit. This past summer also saw the Coast Guard Cutter Maple, a 225-foot seagoing buoy tender, make use of the passage to re-position between its last base of Sitka, Alaska and its new base at Atlantic Beach, North Carolina following up-grading work at the Coast Guard yard in Baltimore, Maryland.

During the passage, which was accompanied part of the way by the Canadian Coast Guard Ship Sir Wilfrid Laurier, research was accomplished in support of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

The voyage also marked the 60th anniversary of a transit by three US Coast Guard cutters and a Canadian icebreaker through the passage in 1957, the first large ships to use the passage.

Maple's place at Sitka has been taken over by the 225-foot Coast Guard Cutter Kukui, which was previously homeported in Honolulu.

Peru Commissions New Polar Research Vessel

Peru has commissioned its newest oceanographic research vessel, the ice-strengthened BAP Carrasco (171), which is now operating in Antarctica in support of the South American country's Machu Picchu research station. Built by Spain's C.N.P. Freire Shipyard, the 313-foot by 59-foot vessel is powered by a Caterpillar/General Electric diesel/electric system driving twin 3,000 kW azimuth propellers to give a service speed of 16.5 knots.

For research, the new ship is equipped with a meteorological office, six laboratories, and a helicopter pad. In addition, it has a bathymetry transducer system fitted to the bottom of the hull that generates an array of acoustic beams with up to 10,000 meters of reach to map the sea floor. In the future a Falcon DR remotely operated vehicle (ROV) is to be carried, which can reach depths of up to 1,000 meters.

Accommodation has been arranged for 50 crewmembers and up to 60 researchers and scientists.

French Icebreaking Logistics Ship

France has placed its 72-meter by 16-meter polar logistics vessel L'Astrolabe in service following the vessel's completion last year by Chantiers Piriou. Classified by Bureau Veritas as an Icebreaker 5 class vessel, the 1,200-dwt ship can operate independently in ice with a maximum thickness of up to 2.5 feet. It makes use of a Wärtsilä propulsion package consisting of four 1,600kW main engines driving two controllable pitch propellers and a forward tunnel thruster.

To meet IMO Tier III EIAPP (Engine International Air Pollution Prevention) standards a Wärtsilä NOx Reducer and Selective Catalytic Reduction exhaust gas cleaning system has been fitted. For supply purposes the French-built vessel is capable of carrying 1,400 tons of cargo and has been equipped with a 35-ton capacity crane aft and a smaller crane forward. Accommodation has been arranged for a crew of 60.

Largest Ice-Classed Expedition Yacht

In the race to get cruise passengers into the ice with high technology ships, Hong Kong's Genting Group hopes to be first with a series of ice-strengthened mega yachts being built by its associated MV Werften yards in Germany. The first in an expected series of three Endeavor-class ships, the 20,000-gt Crystal Endeavor, is due to be delivered next year and will be capable of navigating through first year ice while accommodating up to 200 passengers in 100 suites.

Propulsion, as well as all hotel power, will be provided by four 6-cylinder Wärtsilä 32 engines rated 3,480 kW each and fitted with Wärtsilä NOx Reducer (NOR) systems to make the 160-meter by 23-meter vessels fully compliant with IMO Tier III exhaust emission regulations. The second and third ships, all to be operated by Gentling's Crystal Yacht Expedition Cruises, are to be delivered in 2020 and 2021.

Hybrid arctic Cruise Ship

French cruise ship operator Compagnie du Ponant has ordered what will be the world's first arctic hybrid LNG-fueled cruise vessel from Fincantieri's subsidiary, Vard Holdings Limited, for delivery in the second quarter of 2021.

Developed by Ponant and Vard, in partnership with Stirling Design International and Aker arctic, the 30,000-gt hybrid vessel has been specifically designed to take passengers into remote polar areas, including the Weddell and Ross Seas of Antarctica. It will be the first electric hybrid cruise ship to be built with icebreaker capabilities as well as dual-fuel propulsion and high-capacity batteries.

To measure 150-meters by 28-meters the 15-knot vessel will accommodate 270 passengers and a crew of 180, and is expected to cost nearly $320 million to complete.

First Polar Class 6 Cruise Ship

Croatian Shipyard Brodosplit has laid the keel for what will be the world's first cruise ship to meet LR Polar Class 6 requirements, with the 350-foot by 58-foot Hondius to be delivered to Holland's Oceanwide Expeditions by early 2019. Accommodation for 180 passengers will be arranged in 85 cabins while an open-ocean speed of 15-knots will be provided by twin diesel engines with a total output of 4,200 kW.

Oceanwide currently operates two vessels in Polar regions, the former Royal Dutch Navy oceanographic research vessel Plancius and the former Russian Academy of Science vessel Ortelius, both accommodating 116-passengers and the latter fitted to carry two helicopters.

New Swedish Icebreaking Tug

Spain's Gondon Shipbuilders expects to launch a new icebreaking tug for the Swedish Port of Luleå next year that will be the world's first vessel to be fitted with Wärtsilä's new HY hybrid modules. The 36-meter-long TundRA 3600 tug will be capable of breaking ice up to one-meter thick at a speed of 3 knots.

The Wärtsilä HY system has been designed to cope with this type of icebreaking operation by using an energy management system (EMS) that optimizes the combined use of the vessel's two Wärtsilä 26 diesel engines in combination with its energy storage system and power distribution train. This will allow the tug to operate on electrical battery power alone while in transit but with the two engines capable of being brought in, depending upon operational requirements.

One engine will be sufficient for ship assist work, at a bollard pull of 55 tons, while both engines will produce a bollard pull of 90 tons, and up to 100 tons when in boost mode.

Recharging of the energy storage system will be automatically managed by the EMS but the tug will also be equipped with a system that will allow it to be charged from an onshore station.

Russia's arctic Tugs

Besides a growing number of icebreakers, both nuclear and conventionally powered, Russian builders have been completing a large number of ice-strengthened tugs and service vessels for arctic employment. Representative of these is a series of tugboats being built for work at the Sabetta seaport in the arctic, which serves the giant Yamal LNG facility.

Built in 1993 by the Ukraine's Kherson Shipyard, the 8,759-dwt Chinese icebreaking cargo and supply ship Xue Long is spending this winter in Antarctica after completing an 83-day voyage across the Arctic region this past summer. Photo courtesy of Bahnfrend.

Designed by Russia's Marine Engineering Bureau, and model tank tested at the Krylov State Research Center, the tugs are being built to Russia's arctic ice class Arc6 requirements, meaning that they can operate in one-year-old ice up to 1.5 meters thick. Completed for FSUE Atomflot, they have been fitted with a large number of transverse watertight bulkheads to divide the hull into 7 compartments. This provides one-compartment unsinkability as well as double sides and a double bottom along the entire 39.5-meter length of the hull.

Propulsion is provided by two ICE1400P Azipod units fitted with fixed-pitch stainless steel propellers to give a bollard pull of almost 100 tons. Four Caterpillar 3516C-HD DITA diesel-generators, with a total capacity of 8mW, provide power while air taken into the engine room is preheated to allow vessel operation at temperatures as low as -50 °C.

A power and energy management system automatically starts the required number of diesel-generators, depending upon the load experience being by the propellers, thus optimizing fuel efficiently.


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