Icebreaker Bargain?


Through some comments, from Tups and Matthew Coombs CWO4 USCG (retired), on a previous post we have learned that construction on a medium icebreaker begun for Shell has apparently been suspended because Shell is no longer attempting to drill for oil in the Arctic.

This might be an opportunity for the Coast Guard to obtain one or two reasonably capable medium icebreaker in the near term on favorable terms.

Reportedly the ship was laid down in December so the design and much of the material has already been bought, costs Shell is responsible for.

The icebreaker should be pretty capable, it is reportedly Polar Class 3. Polar class 3 means “Year-round operation in second-year ice which may include multiyear ice inclusions.” My understanding is that the ship will have Four 5060 KW generators. If so it will have more horsepower (20,240 KW/27,131 SHP) than the diesel electric engines of the Polar class (18,000 HP), more than the Glacier (16,000 KW/21,000 SHP), and almost as much as the Healy (22,400 KW/30,027 SHP). It would also be more than twice as powerful as the Wind class breakers (12,000 SHP), the National Science Foundation’s leased M/V Nathaniel B. Palmer (9,485 kW/12,720 HP), or USCGC Mackinaw (6,800 KW/9,119 SHP). It would also be more powerful than all but one of Canada’s icebreakers, and powerful enough to lead a break in at McMurdo Sound.

Politically this might gets some traction because, I am sure the Louisiana delegation would love to see their people go back to work to finish the ship, and the Alaska Senators desperately want more icebreakers. This might even be a circumstance where leasing might make sense.

If Shell is truly abandoning attempts to exploit the Arctic, it is also likely that their other ice class vessels, including the icebreaker Aiviq, are also excess to their needs. Adding Aiviq and the ship under construction to the Healey, would meet the Coast Guard’s stated requirement for three medium icebreakers and provide the backup we need if one of the two existing breakers had a breakdown in the ice.


37 thoughts on “Icebreaker Bargain?

  1. The following information is available from IHS Sea-web:

    Ship Name: LA SHIP 304
    Shiptype: Anchor Handling Tug Supply
    LR/IMO No.: 9788368
    Gross tonnage: 6,000
    Year of Build: 2017
    Flag: United States Of America
    Status: Keel Laid (status changed 2014-11-17)
    Operator: Galliano Marine Service LLC
    Shipbuilder: LaShip LLC
    Length Overall: 94.600 m
    Breadth Moulded: 22.000 m
    Depth: 11.800 m
    Machinery overview: 4 diesel electric oil engines driving, connected to 2 electric motors reduction geared to screw shafts driving 2 Azimuth electric drive units. Total Power: Mcr 20,240kW (27,520hp), Csr 17,204kW (23,392hp)
    Prime mover detail: Design: Caterpillar, Engine Builder: Caterpillar Inc – USA, 4 x C280-16, 4 Stroke, Single Acting, Vee, 16 Cy. 280 x 300, Mcr: 5,060 kW (6,880 hp) at 900 rpm

    While I’m not 100% certain that this is first of the two icebreakers Edison Chouest is (was?) building, the main dimensions are close to what I estimated earlier from the profile drawing and the 20 MW diesel-electric power plant is in any case too large for an open water vessel. Based on those figures, I’d expect the total propulsion power from those two Rolls-Royce Z-drive thrusters to be around 15 MW, similar to the Finnish icebreakers Fennica and Nordica that were previously used by Shell for ice management in Alaska. Icebreaking performance is probably close to that of Aiviq, which is reportedly 5 knots in 1 m (3.3 ft) ice, because the hull form looks very similar. The propeller nozzles will probably suffer from clogging in heavy ice conditions.

    Perhaps it could work as a stopgap measure for the USCG, but it’s definitely not a replacement for a purpose-built coast guard icebreaker.

    • Thanks, Does look like this might be one of those rare cases where leasing would make sense. Use them to gather experience with something more recent than the Healey, then build what we really want. Still it is probably at least ten years before we see new anything more than a replacement for Polar Star.

      • One of the problems in “gathering experience” in this way is that an icebreaking anchor handling tug/supply vessel designed for offshore operations is quite different from a polar icebreaker. It’s a bit like learning to drive a front-end loader before buying your own bus. Nevertheless, the two Polar Class 3 ships could take the USCG through the gap between decommissioning of the Polar Star and commissioning of the replacement polar icebreaker (assuming no-one resurrects the Polar Sea) without leasing a foreign vessel for the McMurdo mission.

        Also, if the USCG wants to try out something more modern than the Healy, they already have Mackinaw. You could think of it as a semi-scale model of a large modern icebreaker.

        Speaking of icebreakers in general, there’s another single-icebreaker nation that’s looking forward to invest a billion of their dollars to an icebreaker and wondering how to get over the gap between the old and the new vessel:

      • …not to mention that they are talking about Australian dollars which is about US$700 million.

      • Chartering you mean? A bareboat charter could work as the NSF did with Natl Palmer.
        Plus your are right this is one of those backyard shipyard deals the congressional critters love!

  2. The USCG probably has procurement rules that prevent them from outright buying these without opening up a competition to other vendors. It’s more likely they’ll lease them. Still an intriguing opportunity.

    • The problem here is also that you have to militarize them to. Remember the problems that the Juniper class tenders had when they deployed to the gulf. during the invasion. I really don’t understand this whole problem really. USN says we have a problem, but they don’t want to give up any funds to solve it. USCG want to solve it, but has no funds.

      If the Navy can own an auxiliary like a Mercy Class ship staffed by civilians then why can’t they give money to the USCG for new Icebreakers that double as aid stations during fishing season manned by HHS. Or to go up and down the Alaskan coast servicing the remote Alaskan villages medical needs.

      If you were to build an icebreaker, what would you do to get the most for your money out of it? And can do the most good.

      Done talking out loud.

      • Well in the ship buying business (I was in), it is all about the “color of money” IOW, many MSC ships are funded from the NDSF National Defense Sealift Fund. Congress puts money in for construction and other sealift projects (one color) for specific programs. The Navy can not give that away to another service much less another project.
        A bareboat charter uses a different color of money i.e. the Navy Capital Working Fund. That is a fund which is recapitalized by the cost of services performed by MSC and other similarly funded commands. There are fewer restrictions as to what the money can be spent on.

      • I was think of help from MSC in terms of advice in how to go about chartering, but if the administration or Congress chose to fund through the Navy Capital Working Fund, I certainly would not object.

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    “NOVEMBER 9, 2015— Shipbroker Seabrokers says that “market sources have indicated that Edison Chouest Offshore has canceled two newbuild 27,000 bhp AHTS icebreakers that were to be built at its LAShip yard in Houma, Louisiana.”

    Designed by ECO’s North American Shipbuilding, Larose, LA, the vessels were to be built to Polar Class 3, equipped to operate in arctic waters with air temperature down to minus 40 degrees Celsius.

    The reported Chouest cancelation of the pair comes in the wake of Shell’s recent decision to halt its operations offshore Alaska for the “foreseeable future.”

    Delivery of first Arctic AHTS from LaShip shipyard had been slated for end 2016.”

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    • Curiously, when it comes to propulsion power, Aiviq (16 MW, two shafts) is not considerably less powerful than the icebreaker it would replace, CCGS Louis S. St-Laurent (20 MW, three shafts). While Edison Chouest’s AHTS is definitely not a polar icebreaker, it could probably cover some (but not all) of the old icebreaker’s missions. Also, while representing a completely different generation of offshore icebreakers, the CCG already has experience of operating a vessel that was not built to Coast Guard spec (CCGS Terry Fox).

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      • Chantier Davie Canada, Inc., the Canadian shipyard that lost the original bid for the construction of the new Canadian polar icebreaker.

        They have been pushing for alternative solutions for the vessels ordered as part of the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy that have suffered from delays and cost overruns. For example, the polar icebreaker was supposed to enter service in 2017 but has now been delayed to the 2020s and the price has nearly doubled since the original bid. So, they are offering Aiviq in its place.

        At the moment, they are engaged in building “alternative” replenishment ship – a conversion of a commercial vessel – for the RCN which recently had to decommission their old vessels while the new ones have not been delivered yet.

        In general, they seem to know what they are doing, but not everyone likes their approach.

      • I think my previous message was lost in spam filter.

        It’s a proposal by Davie, a Canadian shipbuilding company that has recently offered to provide alternatives for vessels that were originally proposed under the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy. For example, the Polar Class 2 icebreaker CCGS John G. Diefenbaker was originally intended to enter service in 2017, but has now been delayed until 2022 or so, and the price tag has almost doubled. Aiviq (in its converted form) is supposed to fill the gap when the 1960s icebreaker CCGS Louis S. St-Laurent is retired.

        The shipyard is currently converting commercial vessels to RCN replenishment oilers.

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  10. Davie is now offering a total of four icebreakers – Aiviq and three Tor Viking-class vessels – to renew the CCG icebreaker fleet:

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    • I hope the Canadians know what they are getting. Here’s a video that shows two of the proposed icebreaking offshore vessels stuck together with the ships they were supposed to break free:

      • That’s the key isn’t it… Quick-look at the displacement and power seems to indicate the Viking-class ships have similar capability to the USCGC Mackinaw. Hardly an arctic heavy icebreaker, but should be capable of supplementing the CCG medium icebreakers in keeping the St Lawrence shipping lanes open. On the other hand the Aiviq should be close to the CCGS St-Laurent capability, like the CCGS Terry Fox. At least close enough to be able to reduce the work-load and extend the current vessel’s life until the long-delayed CCGS Diefenbaker is introduced.

      • What worries me the most is that both ships feature a propulsion system that is not typically used in icebreakers: mechanical transmission with CP propellers and nozzles. The Viking class has heavy flywheels to increase shaftline inertia and allow clearing a clogged nozzle with a quick pitch reversal, but to my knowledge Aiviq doesn’t.

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