Icebreaker team awaits outcome of Caspian, Russian Arctic campaigns

Kvaerner-Masa Yards in Finland is renowned for its expertise in Arctic marine technology.

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The underside of a model of Kvaerner Masa's novel oblique icebreaker.
Click here to enlarge image

Kvaerner-Masa Yards in Finland is renowned for its expertise in Arctic marine technology. It has a dedicated research group based in Helsinki with more than 25 years experience in developing ships and offshore oil and gas platforms to operate in the ice. The group boasts a state-of-the-art design capability and has access to a 77 meter by 6.5 meter ice basin in which to model test its theories.

Kimmo Juurmaa, head of the Arctic Technology Centre, described the group's main focus. "We are concentrated on the challenges surrounding the exploration and production of oil and gas in Arctic Russia, around Sakhalin, and in the Caspian Sea. We are also looking at the problems of transporting oil by tanker through ice-laden waters. This includes our own Gulf of Finland and throughout the Baltic." Juurmaa's group not only supports Kvaerner-Masa developments but undertakes work for outside clients. Currently, 70% of the work falls in to the latter category.

Kvaerner-Masa is at the forefront of icebreaker technology, and over recent years the company has been responsible for several significant developments. However, the rather disappointing pace of progress of the oil and gas business in Russia and the Caspian has meant that firm orders have been slow to materialize.

Twelve months ago, Kvaerner-Masa supplied two shallow-draft, icebreaking supply vessels to Wagenborg Kazakstan for long-term charter to OKIOC (Offshore Kazakstan International Operating Company). These have been successfully supporting drilling operations in the Kashagan area in the north eastern Caspian Sea. They are the only vessels that can support offshore work in this area all the year round. Although an initial drilling program has been completed and one or two people in senior positions have expressed optimism about the results, no official announcements have so far been made. Kvaerner-Masa awaits the news, since hopes of additional orders are heavily dependent on a positive outcome. Still looking at the problem of supporting operations in waters like these, Juurmaa's group has been looking at the design of transport barges that could be either pulled or pushed through the ice.

The OKIOC supply vessels were the first newbuilds to employ Kvaerner-Masa's "double-acting" ice-breaking principle. In heavy ice conditions, the ships operate stern first, and in light ice and open sea, they run bow first. The development was borne out of the observation that conventional icebreakers were more effective when some of the propulsion power was directed to propellers at the bow. These produce a strong lubricating water stream, reducing friction and creating a pressure drop under the ice. The development by Kvaerner-Masa of azimuthing electric propulsion systems during the 1990s was also a key factor in the introduction of double-acting icebreakers, since they provide a very effective means of distributing the ship's power to break through the ice.

Juurmaa's group has extended the double-acting principle to larger vessels, particularly icebreaking oil tankers. A design has been completed for a double-acting tanker (DAT). This has a normal bow, which is ice-strengthened but not intended to break through the ice. It is therefore more efficient than a conventional icebreaking bow in open water. The stern of the vessel is intended to break the ice taking full advantage of the bow propeller effect. Kvaerner-Masa claims the overall power requirement of the DAT is 60-70% of that for a vessel with a conventional icebreaking hull. The vessel is also far more maneuverable when running into ice stern first.

Juurmaa sees massive potential for these vessels for year-round transport of oil from the Pechora Sea in the Russian Arctic and from Sakhalin in the east. The company has a letter of intent from Gazprom to purchase one of the vessels to take oil from its Prirazlomnoye Field. However, with the platform construction only just started, it is likely to be a few years before this contract is firmed up. Fortum, the Finnish national oil company, is also interested in the vessels for transport of oil through the Baltic and the Gulf of Finland. Again firm orders are largely dependent on the outcome of a decision to construct a Russian oil export pipeline into the Gulf of Finland. Question marks surround the siting of the terminal for the pipeline with Primorsk on Russian soil mentioned and Porvoo in Finland also a candidate.

Oblique icebreaker

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The new icebreaker undergoing model tests in Kvaerner Masa's ice basin.
Click here to enlarge image

The very latest idea to come out of Juurmaa's group is the "oblique ice-breaker." The transport of oil through waters subject to ice buildup is a very costly operation. "Icebreaking tankers can be warranted for very extreme conditions, but they are difficult to justify in many cases. For example, in the Baltic, ice-breaking escorts for normal tankers provide a more economic option," Juurmaa said.

"We have been looking to develop a low cost, combined escort tug and icebreaker for use in the Baltic and elsewhere. We have carried out the basic design of a rather unusual asymmetrical hull form and carried out successful model tests with it. One could describe the hull as having three bows - at the front and the rear and along one of the sides that will be run into the ice at 45 degrees to the direction of the motion of the vessel. Power will be provided by three Azipod units of 3MW each. Running obliquely into the ice like this at a speed of 3-4 knots, the 60 meters long by 16 meters wide vessel will be able to create a channel 40 meters wide in ice up to 1.2 meters thick."

Currently, the largest icebreakers are typically around 28 meters wide and, running forward, two of these might be needed to make a channel wide enough for a 100,000 ton deadweight tanker.

Juurmaa estimates the cost of the new vessel will be as low as one third the cost of a conventional icebreaker, which typically has 16 MW of power. "We have used our knowledge and experience of hull design to devise a vessel that is capable of doing the work of a larger, more powerful one for a fraction of the price. Juurmaa added that the vessel will carry a full oil spill response capability.

The development has been supported by Fortum and the Finnish Board of Navigation, responsible for icebreaking in Finnish waters. Both have expressed a real interest in the vessel and Juurmaa expects to see this turned into orders, once a decision is made on the future of oil export through the Gulf of Finland.

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