January 10, 2013

The world needs more icebreakers

The multipurpose icebreaker Fennica crossed the Arctic Ocean via the famed Northeast Passage in late 2012.
The multipurpose icebreaker Fennica crossed the Arctic Ocean via the famed Northeast Passage in late 2012.
Arctica Shipping

Arctic seaways will become busier in coming years due to climate change and the increasing use of natural resources. This sea change will create major opportunities for Finnish ice-breaking expertise.

As the climate becomes warmer, the three Arctic seaways – the Northeast Passage north of Russia, the Northwest Passage north of Canada and the so-called Polar Route – will cut shipping distances by as much as 20 to 40 per cent compared with the routes through the Panama and Suez canals. The Northeast Passage is spearheading this development with its nuclear-powered icebreaker service.

“In 2012, approximately 1.4 million tonnes of cargo aboard 43 vessels passed along this route. Russia aims to have some 20 million tonnes of cargo go through by 2020. The reported capacity is up to 50 million tonnes,” says Tero Vauraste, CEO of Arctia Shipping.

“Another reason for the more frequent use of the Arctic seaways is the growing utilisation of natural resources in these areas,” Vauraste points out. “The region has significant hydrocarbon and mineral reserves that will become more readily accessible as polar ice decreases.”

Plenty of know-how and potential

According to Vauraste, Finland is the only country in the world with expertise in designing, building and operating icebreakers and other vessel types suitable for the Arctic. There will be no lack of opportunities due to the fact that the current global fleet of around 100 ageing icebreakers hardly meets even today’s needs.

“At least 20–40 new icebreakers will be required within the next 10–20 years to replace old ones and to meet new needs, and this includes proficient crews for operating them as well,” says Vauraste.

Building 10 new icebreakers creates a turnover potential of 1.5 billion euros and requires some 10 000 man-years of work. Once completed, operating 10 icebreakers over their life cycle will additionally create turnover potential of five-to-six billion euros and 15 000 man-years. When multiplied by three, this amounts to an expected business potential of up to 75 000 man-years and 20 billion euros, equalling roughly one-third of the annual budget of the Finnish state.

“Can Finland afford to let this growth generator slip out of its hands?” asks Vauraste.

Stricter environmental regulation

Environmental issues pose a particular challenge for future development because increasing activity also increases risks.

“Finland needs to export its globally superior know-how to make the increasing volume of traffic safe and sustainable,” Vauraste says. “Finnish expertise in combatting oil spills is also world class.”

Additional factors affecting Finland’s position in terms of maritime logistics are the EU’s imminent sulphur emissions directive and EEDI (Energy Efficiency Design Index) which will both cut back emissions and increase shipping costs. Arctia has used Wärtsilä technology for converting its multipurpose icebreakers Fennica and Nordica to comply with the new environmental regulations. The conversion reduces the ships’ SOx emissions by more than 99 per cent, NOx emissions by approximately 90 per cent and particulate emissions by around 50 per cent.

Text by: Sari Okko

Looking for more good news? Subscribe to our newsletter