Sweden readies for icebreaker order | Polarjournal
The new generation of icebreakers could be sailing by 2027 (Artist’s conception: Sjöfartsverket / Aker Arctic)

Swedish maritime authorities are preparing for construction of their next generation of icebreakers on the expectation that, should lawmakers set aside funding in next year’s budget, the first of what may be three new vessels could be on the water by 2027.

According to Sjöfartstidningen, a trade publication for the maritime industry, Sjöfartsverket is seeking to prequalify shipyards that have the expertise to build icebreakers. Prequalifying shipyards will make it possible for Sjöfartsverket to order the icebreakers as soon as Riksdagen approves a national budget with the 3.44 billion kronor (€320 million) the government, this spring, said would be needed to build the first two of a possible three icebreakers.

If the money is included in the budget when it gets approved later this year, Sjöfartsverket will be able to place an order in 2023, Jonas Franzen, a spokesperson, told Sjöfartstidningen.

Despite being Sweden’s youngest icebreaker, the Oden (seen here in the Arctic Ocean), is worn down from year-round operation, proponents of replacing it argue (Photo: Polarforskningssekretariatet)

The new icebreakers would allow Sjöfartsverket to begin retiring the oldest of its five-vessel Baltic icebreaker fleet, the oldest of which are pushing 50 years. Sweden’s icebreakers are vital for keeping ports in the upper Gulf of Bothnia ice-free for up to five months out of the year.

Aker Arctic Technology, a Finnish firm, designed the vessels on behalf of Sjöfartsverket and Väylävirasto, which oversees Finland’s transport infrastructure. The new vessels are expected to have a lifespan of 50 years, and will meet Swedish carbon-pollution requirements, though no fuel has been selected. The new vessels would also be wider, allowing Sjöfartsverket to keep pace with the increasing size of vessels calling on ports in northern Sweden.

The vessels to be retired have not been identified, but in connection with the plans to begin replacing Sweden’s icebreakers, Polarforskningssekretariatet, the national polar-research agency, called for a study of whether the Oden, the largest of Sweden’s icebreakers, and a veteran of polar exploration, should be among them. Oden entered service in 1989, but, unlike Sweden’s four other icebreakers, it is active year-round; in the summer it serves as a research vessel in the Arctic Ocean. It has also done icebreaking duty in Antarctic during the antipodean summer.

Sweden’s polar-research institute has called for construction of a multi-purpose vessel to conduct winter ice-breaking in the Baltic and research voyages in the polar regions (Artist’s conception: Polarforskningssekretariatet)

Previous governments have admitted that having an icebreaker of the Oden’s calibre is important for learning more about polar climate and its relationship to climate degradation at lower latitudes. Nevertheless, it was leery about spending money to replace a functioning icebreaker amid warning that Sjöfartsverket’s other icebreakers were on the verge of breaking down, and asked the Riksdag to look into the matter.

In addition to replacing the Oden, other options include leasing an icebreaker when need arose, or paying to make sure that Swedish scientists have seats on other research vessels, such as Germany’s Polarstern. Polarforskningssekretariatet, however, argues that keeping the country’s polar-science program intact requires year-round access to its own “research infrastructure.” In addition, it suggests that, instead of renting space on other research vessels, Sweden could earn money by operating a research vessel year-round.

Kevin McGwin, PolarJournal

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