Five icebreakers in the pipeline?

Sweden and Finland are joining forces to create the next generation of green icebreakers

article picture: Five icebreakers in the pipeline?

Finland and Sweden have been considering a joint purchase of icebreakers for a couple of years now. In March 2020, the Swedish Maritime Administration and the Finnish Transport Infrastructure Agency began collaborating on the design of a modern ice breaker concept.

Finland is thinking about getting 1–2 icebreakers and Sweden could order as many as three. It is no surprise that Sweden has its eye on more icebreakers than Finland, since the Swedish icebreaker fleet is also smaller. But the fact remains that both Sweden and Finland have outdated icebreaker fleets, and the next generation of icebreakers is required.

Presently, a lot of freight is being moved from road transport to ships, and, of course, a major part of Finnish and Swedish foreign trade is shipped by sea. The ports in the Gulf of Bothnia need to remain open and accessible all year round – so those icebreakers need to be ready to perform.


Update the old formula

Finland and Sweden want to create a different type of icebreaker that is able to serve ever wider ships, as well as cope with new ice characteristics. It appears that a milder climate with more wind and less widespread ice can, actually, make navigation more difficult in ice-covered waters. For example, in the coming years we’re likely to see pack ice and ice ridges that are tougher than solid ice.

tougher than solid ice. In addition, the demand for icebreaker assistance has changed in recent years. While ships are getting bigger, environmental standards limit their power somewhat – and thus their ability to navigate ice-covered waters unaided is compromised.

The Nordic icebreaker project is estimated to come with a price tag in excess of billion euros. Both the Swedish Maritime Administration and the Finnish Transport Infrastructure Agency recommend state funding for the undertaking.


14 icebreakers right now

Presently, there are five active icebreakers in Sweden and nine in Finland, a fleet that was partly developed in collaboration between the countries in the 1970s. That’s when the five Urho/Atle class icebreakers were built, together with the sister ships Sisu, Ymer and Frej.

Therefore, this is not the first time that the two countries are working together on icebreaking innovation. In addition, Finland brings into the project its rather recent experience from Polaris, the LNG-powered ice breaker built five years ago.

Mika Laurilehto, CSO, Rauma Marine Constructions (RMC), says that the Swedish Maritime Administration has already made preliminary inquiries about whether RMC would be interested in building the vessels. Laurilehto deems the project worthwhile and, in fact, really necessary:

“It is clear that the sea lanes in the Baltic Sea area must stay open throughout the coldest months of the year. The icebreaker fleet in the Baltic has to be able to perform their invaluable tasks also in the future,” he says.


Wanted more sustainable icebreakers

Laurilehto says that the next generation of icebreakers must respond to great expectations when it comes to performance and eco-friendliness.

“Their emissions must be significantly lower than those of their predecessors in the Urho and Atle class. Also, they must be able to break a 32-metre-wide channel in the ice, endure tough conditions that are becoming even more severe, and operate for up to 50 years,” he runs down the list of requirements.

shipyard must have know-how in arctic shipbuilding and the ability to implement new technology and innovations in a way that increases the icebreaking capabilities of the vessels while cutting down emissions. Moreover, previous experience from public-sector procurements plays an important role: knowing the process and necessary preparations makes collaboration between the buyer and builder smoother.

RMC knows icebreakers

”Shipbuilders in Rauma have plenty of experience in building vessels for challenging weather conditions”, Laurilehto points out.

“RMC has been operating the Rauma shipyard from 2014, and during this time we have upgraded the operative capabilities of icebreaker Otso, done a general overhaul and modernisation of research vessel Aranda, and built two car and passenger ferries: Hammershus, completed in 2018, and Aurora Botnia, completed in 2021.”

What is noteworthy, as well, is that RMC’s vessels are not produced in series. They are novel and technically advanced, state-of-the-art products tailored to the buyer’s needs. “When it comes to technology development projects and future innovations, RMC works in close cooperation with universities, equipment suppliers and other partners.”


Icebreakers in 2070?

”Naturally, the long lifespan of new icebreakers poses a significant challenge to shipbuilding. Requirements related to power generation and emissions will change in fifty years, and they will be difficult to anticipate”, says Laurilehto.

“However, decisions must be made now so that the current emission reduction goals can be achieved. The technology for decarbonising marine transport already exists. What we need now is collaboration between companies and the public sector, and across industries and geographic borders.” In the industry, bio-based fuels and battery technology are the main solutions considered to have the most potential for the near future.

Laurilehto sees public procurements as “spearheads for industrial development and success” in Finland and Sweden. Likewise, the procurement of new icebreakers offers an opportunity to develop new technologies and the maritime industry cluster.

“A joint project between Finland and Sweden would restore the role of the two countries’ maritime clusters as global leaders in arctic expertise. Moreover, it would safeguard national security of supply in terms of export and import by sea. All necessary competence and technology can be found in the Nordics,” he believes.

“Nonetheless, before the vessels can be built, the Finnish and Swedish governments must work together and make creative decisions to ensure that the project can be carried out in a cost-effective way – while promoting environmentally sustainable seafaring.”

by: Sami J. Anteroinen

photos: Rauma Marine Constructions

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