A new heart for the Polarfront | Polarjournal
Fifty-five metres long and 10 metres wide at its widest point, the Polarfront‘s ice-strengthened hull sinks 4.5 metres into the water and flies the French flag. (Image: Latitude Blanche)

In line with its business model and the decarbonization of the shipping industry, Latitude Blanche is renovating its vessel to meet expectations of both the environmental policies of the International Maritime Organization and a more demanding clientele.

The French expedition cruise operator Latitude Blanche will be placing its only ship, the Polarfront, on a four-month technical shutdown at the Piriou shipyard in Concarneau in December, which will have financial repercussions for this small company of around 25 employees, including the ship’s crew.

Yann Le Bellec is the head of Latitude Blanche, founded in 2017. “He hails from a Marseille family and, despite a Breton-sounding name, his Armorican ancestors are a long way off,” writes the maritime magazine Le Chasse-Marée. It was back in his hometown, in 2005, where he began his Merchant Navy career.

In 2017, he teamed up with a classmate who had switched plans two years earlier. Together, they acquired the Polarfront, a 1976 Norwegian vessel. Originally designed to collect weather information in heavy seas at Point Mike at 66°N, she came into the company founders’ sights in 2017. After an eight-year of work, the Polarfront was back in the Arctic, a region it will leave only for annual maintenance.

From the start, Yann Le Bellec has believed in renovating what already exists. The design of the cabins is based on the original furnishings, even though they were refurbished when the ship was converted into a passenger ship. And now it’s the engine room’s turn, which has remained faithful to the ship since its construction.

View of the Polarfront‘s 1,100 kW current main engine. (Image: Latitude Blanche)

Yann Le Bellec plans to remove the engine and its direct drive propeller shaft and install three diesel generators to power two electric motors. Beneath the hull, the single propeller positioned in a duct will be replaced by one five-blade propeller beating in open water.

These changes will have a major impact on noise. On the one hand, the device should improve passenger comfort, and on the other, it should reduce the ship’s noise emitted into the water.

The new generators will work at constant speed and will be physically detached from the propellers, which should create less vibration.

The propellers will have a greater number of blades, enabling them to distribute their forces more evenly over the water, and to cavitate less – i.e. produce a clattering sound in the water – contributing to the disturbance of marine fauna.

The ship’s fuel consumption is also on the CEO’s mind. The three generators can be set to work independently of each other, and if the ship needs to increase speed, officers can switch from one to three generators.

In 2021, the International Maritime Organization had adopted a resolution on reducing “black carbon” emissions from ships in the Arctic, encouraging member states and operators to mitigate these emissions.

The Polarfront engine will therefore be equipped with particle filters and a system to limit nitrogen oxides, another gas emitted that causes respiratory problems in cities.

The planned overhaul will reduce total fuel consumption by 35%, taking into account the addition of a heat recovery system in the engine room to heat on-board water.

Latitude Blanche’s model for the Polarfront is to continue with what already exists. Yann Le Bellec believes that melting down 1,000 tons of steel to build a new ship would require a lot of energy and cost twice as much. “I don’t want this to affect the price of our cruises,” he explains.

Working with what already exists doesn’t mean you can’t innovate. Last winter, the Polarfront made a technical stopover in Brittany and met the company SEA.AI. Aboard the Polarfront, the company will test its device for detecting floating objects, adapting it to polar environments. Its cameras and thermal sensors will be focused on the coastal waters of Svalbard, icebergs and whale blows.

Camille Lin, PolarJournal

Link to the website of Latitude Blanche

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