Arctic Icebreakers        

Arctic Icebreakers

(from AMSA Report 2009)


Government and private icebreakers are a key resource in the development of the Arctic. Generally, icebreakers are able to carry out the following roles: maintenance of shipping tracks in ice-covered waters, close escort of shipping in ice, provision of ice information, sovereignty support/representation, search and rescue, environmental response, command platform for emergency response, medical evacuation in remote areas, harbor breakout, electrical power supply, science platform, constabulary function (maritime security), transporting cargo (northern re-supply and logistic support) and fisheries conservation and protection.

There are some 50 icebreakers in the world fleet. The Russian fleet is by far the largest and most powerful, counting icebreakers powered by nuclear power plants, with five of 75,000 shaft horsepower (shp). The Russian Federation recently announced the allocation of some 15 billion rubles to build another 75,000 shp icebreaker.

The next largest fleet of Arctic-class icebreakers is that of the Canadian Coast Guard. The Canadian Government recently announced an investment of $C720 million to provide an Arctic-class replacement for the CCGS Louis S. St-Laurent. Most other countries that operate icebreakers own one or two, other countries such as Denmark and Norway have small fleets of ice-strengthened vessels generally intended for fisheries patrol and interdiction.

The world’s icebreaker fleets are aging and will require significant investment during the coming years to maintain their effectiveness and capability. For instance, Canadian icebreakers are on the average 30-plus years old, while those of the U.S. are 30 years old, with the exception of the USCGC Healy, which was built in 2000. Of note is the recently issued report, Polar Icebreakers in a Changing World, which is a needs analysis of U.S. icebreaking requirements in the coming years. In addition, it is also known that a number of other countries are either building or planning construction of new icebreakers primarily intended for science research, namely the European Union and South Korea.

Icebreaker construction is very specialized and very expensive. Steel is thicker and stronger than that required for normal cargo ship construction. In addition, there are other necessary specific features, such as horizontal and vertical construction members that are deeper and stronger, reinforced icebelts and redundant features. These details are specified in a number of national regulations governing construction of ice-class ships, namely those of the Russian Federation, Canada, Finland and Sweden; as well as classification societies such as the American Bureau of Shipping, Det Norske Veritas, Germanischer Lloyd and Lloyd’s Register. Recently, the International Association of Classification Societies approved their Polar Class construction standard as one of a number of “Unified Requirements.” Classification societies have one year to enter the new requirement in their respective rules. Classification societies have the new requirements in their respective rules, and some are expected to keep their existing rules.


    Arctic Council, 2009, Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment (AMSA), Arctic Council.©

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