Finland Blocks Helsinki Shipyard's Russian Icebreaker Project

The proposed design for Nornickel's now-canceled icebreaker (Nornickel)

Published Oct 5, 2022 9:52 PM by The Maritime Executive

Helsinki Shipyard 's contract to build the largest and most powerful icebreaker ever made in Finland has collapsed because it has been denied a license to export it to the buyer, Russian metals and mining giant Norilsk Nickel (Nornickel).

Helsinki Shipyard announced the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affair gave it a “negative decision” regarding the export license for the icebreaker, which was ordered by Norilsk Nickel in January. The export license was crucial to allow the shipbuilder to transfer the icebreaker to its new owner. 

Though the export of icebreakers to Russia is banned due to European Union sanctions, Helsinki Shipyard was hoping for an exemption with a positive decision.  

Denial of the export license ultimately means that Helsinki Shipyard will not start construction of the vessel at the Hietalahti shipyard, which had already been pushed back to 2023. Helsinki Shipyard has been undertaking preliminary works since late last year, awaiting the Finnish authorities' decision on the export license. The vessel, designed to operate in northern Siberia, was expected to be delivered to Norilsk Nickel in 2025 ahead of the winter season.

The move by the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs is yet another blow for Helsinki Shipyard, whose operations have negatively been affected by sanctions following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The company is Russian-owned and has deep business ties to Russian shipping, with several of the shipyard’s current projects having direct or indirect links to Russia.

Last month the company was forced to deny reports that one of its suppliers was pushing for the shipyard to be declared bankrupt, dismissing the reports as a minor dispute.

The Norilsk Nickel icebreaker, which would have been the largest and most powerful diesel-electric icebreaker ever built in Finland, was a key part of the shipyard’s future work flow. It was expected to support the employment of 2,100 workers at the yard and its supplier network.

The icebreaker, whose concept design was developed in cooperation with Aker Arctic Technology Oy, would have had an LNG dual-fuel diesel-electric power plant. Designed for escort duty in the Yenisei River and the Kara Sea, it would have been capable of breaking ice up to two meters thick. The ship would also have had facilities for transporting cargo and supporting helicopter operations. Its cancellation is a setback for Norilsk Nickel, a top manufacturer of palladium and refined nickel and one of the biggest platinum and copper producers in the world.