World's First LNG-Powered Icebreaker Delivered

Polaris in sea trials (courtesy Benjamin Horn)

By MarEx 2016-09-28 21:33:46

On Wednesday, Arctech Helsinki Shipyard delivered the world's first ever LNG-powered icebreaker, the Polaris, for the Finnish Transport Agency and state-owned icebreaker operator Arctia. 

She is the most powerful Finnish icebreaker ever, and can run on either LNG or low sulfur diesel, meeting IMO and Baltic region emissions standards. Polaris uses ABB’s azipod propulsion for high maneuverability, with an unconventional arrangement of one pod towards the bow and two at the stern. 

The Polaris is classed IACS Polar Class 4, rated for breaking six feet of ice at 3.5 knots. As a point of comparison, the U.S. Coast Guard medium icebreaker Healy is rated for four and a half feet at three knots. 

Polaris' design was controversial in Finland. She is not suited for a summertime role in platform supply or ocean towing, limiting her utility to winter icebreaking. Arctia in particular had advocated for a multipurpose design instead, but a dedicated icebreaker may be an advantage, according to proponents. Those backing the Polaris order noted that previous Finnish dual-purpose vessels like the Fennica were 50 percent more expensive to build and were not cost-competitive with dedicated towing/PSV ships in the offshore industry. 

The Polaris' design was a runner-up in last year's ASF Arctic Shipping Innovation Award for its three-azipod propulsion system and its LNG / diesel-fuelled main engines. She is highly automated, and only requires a crew of 16 to operate. Polaris is also fitted with oil recovery skimming equipment on the stern, and has recovery tanks for up to 50,000 cubic feet of oil.  

Her cost was approximately $140 million, compared with a planned $1 billion expenditure for a new, Antarctic-capable U.S. Coast Guard heavy icebreaker. The comparison is inexact, as Coast Guard heavy icebreakers are built to operate in more than 20 feet of ice – more than three times as thick as the Polaris' specification – and the USCG insists that its equipment should be designed to military standards. But recently Arctia has called attention to the price advantage, experience and underutilized capacity of Finnish yards, and has publicly called for a joint U.S.-Canada-Finland icebreaker construction program based on time charter – rather than an American domestic icebreaker program.