The gradual erosion of the sea ice from the Arctic region is natural and most visible feature of the warming climate. The implications for the ice loss are the major concern for the world´s marine infrastructure. The ice - free Arctic summers bring new challenges and opportunities for shipping companies to develop modern technologies which could face slow disappearance of the seasonal cover of perennial sea ice.
Ice - breaking and ice strengthened machines were already, commonly used, during the very first Arctic expeditions. They were wooden but beefed up with the double planking to the hull and bands of iron around the outside bows, stern and along the keel to carry the ship through the ice and protect against the ship being nipped by the ice.
The first ice - breaker which travelled to the North Pole was the Russian nuclear - powered vessel Arktica which reached the North Pole in August 1977. In 2007 the Murmansk Shipping Company, which provides with the management of the state owned, Russian nuclear ice - breakers, completed the sea trials for NS 50 Let Pobedy.
The need for the ice breaking vessels arisen with the opportunities for navigation through the arctic ice covered waters and to keep the trade route open during all, seasonal or permanent ice conditions. Current vessels, no matter if powered by gas turbines, diesel - electric or nuclear energy, are extremely hard to operate because of the thick, rounded keels and no protuberances for stability which cause constant motion, disturbing noise and vibration.
Arctic ice - breaking fleet mainly consists of the double hull and watertight, nuclear powered vessels. It requires special support facilities, including refueling and spent fuel facilities as well as nuclear waste storages. Maintenance of the ice - breakers is a responsibility of the Arctic flag state and with regards to the nuclear - powered vessels, must include radiation monitoring and control, also the sanitization of the workers. The research for the safe disposal needs to be conducted regularly by all of the Arctic states.
Nowadays, all of the Arctic Council participants have an ice - breakers in their fleet. It is estimated that the Russian Federation currently owns 18 vessels and is planning to expand connected infrastructure before the year of 2010. Finland currently has 9 ice - breaking ships in its fleet, mainly operated in the Gulf of Bothnia, out of Oulu harbor. Canada´s record consists of six ice - breakers while Sweden operates five of them. There is only one ice-breaking and cost guard vessel noticed in Norwegian fleet and it is mainly operated around Svalbard. The United States currently has only three ice - breakers in its fleet, which are mainly used for the Arctic exploration, commercial shipping, tourism, science and fishing.
Heavy duty ships can have the ice - breaking capability of up to 7 feet at 3 knots and 21 feet thick of ice - ramming capability. The minimum displacement for those vessels is nowadays up to 12.000 tons. Those can be operated in all Arctic ice - covered waters in the temperature going down even to -60 Fahrenheit.
Growing interest in the Arctic region makes it possible to use the Arctic ice - breakers not only in military, industrial and export - import operations, but also in tourism. In the coming years, when Arctic passageways will become more navigable for resource exploration and exploitation, commercial cargo shipping and fishing operations, governments of the Arctic states will face new ice - breaking operational challenges and opportunities with regards to environment pollution control and development of current infrastructure.
Please, be referred to the Interactive Data Mapping System for more information with regards to the Arctic state - owned, particular ice - breakers and their location.