The US Naval Institute News has published a chart, prepared by the USCG, listing their best estimate of the world icebreaker fleets. Ships are listed by country, horsepower class, and year the ship entered service. Ships under construction or planned are also listed.
Only ships of more than 10,000 Brake Horse Power (7,457 MW), capable of independent Arctic operation, are included. There are notations to indicate nuclear propulsion, whether the ship has made it to the North Pole, whether it is government owned, and if the ship is designed specifically for the Baltic.
Tim Colton’s “Maritime Memos” reports STX Canada Marine has been awarded a $9.5M contract to design Canada’s new icebreaker and goes on to make a suggestion:
“Say, Dave, could you please design it so that it meets the US Coast Guard’s requirements as well? Then maybe Vancouver Shipyards could build four of them, one for you and three for us? Why is Canada only building one, anyway, when you obviously need at least three?”
Lots of other good stuff there as well including: new Navy AGOR, Congress on harbor maintenance, changes in the Navy’s ship building programs.
The Commandant has come out and said what we already knew. Navy Times is reporting Admiral Papp stated “We need icebreakers up [in the Arctic], and right now our icebreakers are in a sorry state…They need replacement or very thorough renovation to allow the United States to sustain an active presence and support our sovereignty up there.”
Let’s be clear, a “very thorough renovation” may be needed, but it is not enough. The two Polar Class breakers are already 34 and 36 years old. Hopefully we will get them running again, but they will need to replaced within any prudent planning horizon. It seems to take us ten years to get a new ship built, so if we start on their replacements now, they will be about 46 years old when they are replaced. We need to start with the assumption that we will build new icebreakers, then we can make intelligent decisions about how much to invest in the Polar Class. The replacement ships may not need to be as large or as powerful, but even a ship of comparable capabilities should be possible that is cheaper to man, run, and maintain. The question is not do we need new icebreakers, it is how quickly? Expecting these ships to soldier on without a planned replacement is unrealistic.
There has been a lot more activity in the North lately (more here and here), with the promise that if the melting continues, passages from Northern Europe to Asia may be cut by up to half (link includes a nice comparisons of the routes). The Russians expect to make some money on fees for passage and the use of their icebreakers.
There is even talk that it may substantially hurt business at the Suez Canal and allow ships to avoid pirates off Somalia. Looks like that is still a few years off since the season is very limited and only ice strengthened vessels can use the route now.
Still other people are planning ahead. China is building their second polar icebreaker and positioning itself to exploit the Arctic. Maybe a little healthy competition is the wake up call we need.
I got curious and did a small survey of the fleet size using resources I had at hand (that’s why I used 1982 instead of the more logical 1980). So here is a comparison of the fleet composition in 1982, 1990, 2000, and 2010 with some notes about the future. To make the information more meaningful, I have grouped the ships in categories by displacement and provided subtotals of all the ships in that category or larger. There is a more specific evaluation of patrol vessels near the bottom. My sources are at the foot.
(note: loa is length over all. tons (fl) is full load displacement)