Asymmetrical Icebreaker - Arctic Multipurpose Vessel

New Wave Media

September 21, 2013

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A new asymmetrical design for Arctic icebreakers is capable of opening larger paths for other ships to navigate in the harsh Arctic winter, this oblique icebreaker, NB 508, is being built by Finish shipbuilder Arctech in Helsinki. This icebreaker drifts sideways allowing it to cut a channel as much as 30% wider than channels made by conventional icebreakers that hit the ice head-on. The €76 million ($103 million) ship has been designed with an asymmetrical hull that inclines steeply and is heavily reinforced on its left side, to bear the brunt of the icebreaking. Although the ship can go faster in open water or while icebreaking head-on, when moving sideways it will creep forward at a speed of just 2 knots (2.3mph), and can only tackle thinner ice of up to 0.6m (23.6in) depth, but experts say the ship's ability to cut a path of 164ft (50m) outweighs those factors.

Traditional icebreakers use their weight, size and power to bulldoze crusts of ice as much as 3m (10ft) thick when the sea freezes over, this special class of ship leaves a narrow, open lane for other vessels following in their wake. In many cases, two icebreakers as well as other support vessels are required to open a route wide enough for cargo ships to pass through. In recent years Arctic ship traffic has risen significantly, with bigger cargo ships, LNG carriers and oil tankers beginning to look at the northern passage as a viable option because of the diminishing ice cover in the northern water. Maritime traffic is taking off in Russia's strategic Northern sea route, with 43 vessels having sailed that route in 2012, up from just 3 or 4 in 2010. Analysts expect commercial activity to continue growing, as melting polar ice makes the sea navigable for more of the year. For the Russians especially, this is excellent news, as this will undoubtedly increase trade along their rugged northern waters, where they charge transit fees from ships and require that every ship be accompanied by one of their icebreakers. The Russian icebreaker fleet is becoming old and many are too small for supporting larger ships and tankers. Therefore this new class of icebreaker is a welcome addition to the Russian Arctic fleet and this new icebreaker technology is also most likely to interest ship owners and O&G operators as a boost for shipping and drilling, since most of the ships using that route carry liquefied natural gas (LNG) or crude oil to East Asian markets.

Another important aspect of the NB 508 is that it is designed as a rescue vessel and is capable of collecting spilt oil, which may come from accidents in oil drilling but also from accidents with large ships having their hulls pierced by ice or by collision with other ships. The decrease in ice coverage is considered by scientists to be due to rising climate temperatures or global warming as it is widely known, and the increase in ship traffic along with the rising effort to drill O&G wells in the Arctic has led environmentalists to bitterly complain that the Arctic environment is at risk, due to the probability of oil spills eventually occurring and the fact that oil companies may not prepared to cope with an oil spill in severe Arctic conditions.

The fact is that even with a strong anti-drilling campaign from environmentalist groups, there is no turning back from Arctic oil & gas exploration, with significant discoveries already being made north of Norway. Oil companies are working on increasing their preparedness for when accidents causing spills do occur and the NB 508  can also help clean up oil spills. The right side of the vessel is dedicated to collecting oil. On this side of the vessel, oil present over the water is guided to an open hatch where the oil is skimmed from the water through an internal integrated skimmer system. The ship also boasts three rotating azimuth thrusters, which can turn the vessel 360 degrees. These are placed asymmetrically along the ship's keel, with two thrusters at the back and one at the front to give the icebreaker a high degree of maneuverability.

*All NB 508 images courtesy of Arctech Helsinki Shipyard.





Paschoa, Claudio
Claudio Paschoa is Marine Technology Reporter's correspondent in Brazil.
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