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Icebreakers and Research Vessels in the Arctic

(from AMSA Report 2009)


Icebreakers, government and research vessels represent a relatively small proportion of the total vessel traffic in the Arctic. However, they are invaluable for surveying, oceanographic research, vessel escort in ice, salvage, pollution response and search and rescue. For the AMSA database, these vessel types were grouped since they conduct similar missions and also often carry out multiple tasks on a voyage. In the AMSA 2004 database, 83 of this type of ship were reported; however, several Arctic states did not include government vessels in their submission so the total for this category is likely larger. In keeping with the scope of the Arctic Council, naval or military vessels were not included in the AMSA database.

The icebreaker fleets of Canada and the Russian Federation conduct a range of tasks in their respective regions; summer sealift icebreaking duties are an important mission for these ships. Though several icebreakers might be capable of operating in the winter, nearly all icebreaker operations reported in the AMSA are conducted in the spring, summer and autumn. During summer 2004, the AMSA database indicates that there were eight voyages that reached the North Pole, including a three-ship scientific expedition designed to drill into the Arctic seabed. The expedition was composed of the Russian Federation’s nuclear icebreaker Sovetskiy Soyuz, Sweden’s icebreaker Oden and the Norwegian-flag icebreaking drill ship Viking Vidar. During 2004-2008, there were 33 icebreaker transits to the North Pole for science and tourism. An increasing number of icebreakers and research vessels are conducting geological and geophysical research throughout the central Arctic Ocean related to establishing the limits of the extended continental shelf under UNCLOS.


  •  1. Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment Report 2009

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