The last couple of years have been challenging ones for owners and operators of ice-class offshore support vessels (OSVs) with a steep decline in the oil price causing plans for exploration and production activity in Arctic and ice-prone regions to be put on the back burner. This has led to reduced demand for ice-class units and reduced interest in developing new ice-class OSV designs. Shell, one of the few companies that was still committed to the Arctic region – and to offshore Alaska in particular – has pulled back from the region for the time being.
However, one of the best-known companies in the ice-class vessel sector, Aker Arctic, is really busy, continuing to develop ice-class vessels and technology for a range of markets – not just the OSV market – as was made clear in presentations at Aker Arctic’s latest Arctic Passion Seminar earlier this year.
The 11th Arctic Passion Seminar took place at Aker Arctic on 3 March 2016. Nearly a hundred Arctic specialists and other professionals from the shipbuilding, shipping and offshore industries gathered in Helsinki to discuss the latest developments in the Arctic, ongoing and upcoming projects, new ice-going vessel concepts and technological advancements. The opening presentation on Finnish experience and perspectives on Arctic development was given by Finland minister of economic affairs Olli Rehn. The event has always also included an ice model test at Aker Arctic’s ice laboratory, and this year was no exception – the company demonstrated the operation of a dynamic positioning (DP) icebreaking offshore vessel in floe ice using a real DP system adapted to model scale, the test being part of an ongoing R&D project between Aker Arctic and Navis Engineering.
As Reko-Antti Suojanen, managing director of Aker Arctic, noted recently, in the last few years, expectations of the development and exploitation of hydrocarbons in the Arctic region have been running at a high level. “Expectations have been high … although many companies already operating and doing business in the Arctic were cautious about the Arctic rush,” said Mr Suojanen. “This conservatism may pay off, because the low oil price has significantly changed the situation. Oil companies in particular have been forced to look for new strategies and are cutting costs.” In this situation, said Mr Suojanen, “it is hardly likely that a new rush for oil resource development in the difficult conditions of the Arctic would take place any time in the near future.”
As he noted, low levels of exploration and development in Artic and ice-prone regions will have an effect on Aker Arctic. One example is ice tank testing, which for several years was dominated by platform developments. “Today, this activity is much lower,” he said, “and almost all the testing is carried out for ships, although some offshore wind power energy projects are bringing new activity to the offshore segment.”
The offshore oil and gas industry may be in a depression, but Aker Arctic is active on projects for many other types of ice-class vessel, as Mr Suojanen noted, “Despite the fact that climate change will eventually result in less ice in sea areas that are today covered by ice, there will be a significant need for upgrading the world’s icebreakers, which are undoubtedly old.” According to Mr Suojanen, there are about 131 icebreakers or icebreaker-type vessels in operation today, and their median age is 32 years.
“Icebreakers are long-lasting ships, and many of them are in use for up to 50 years,” said Mr Suojanen, “but despite this, we can conclude that, in coming decades, there will be a significant need to build new vessels to replace the old ones. We can already see this trend, as building of new icebreakers is underway in Russia and Finland, and Canada and the US have started their plans for replacements. The Baltic Sea has been affected by warm winters with less ice, but icebreakers are still a necessity, and slowly the plans to replace the Atle/Urho-class icebreakers are beginning in Sweden and Finland.”
He noted that another interesting aspect of the market for ice-class vessels is the growing focus on the development of energy-saving vessels with reduced power requirements. Then there is the IMO Polar Code – which comes into effect from 1 January 2017 – which covers overall design and construction as well as environmental and operational aspects of polar shipping. “These regulations and requirements are already being taken into account, and at Aker Arctic, we can utilise our long experience and knowhow to develop reasonable and practical solutions, both technically and operationally,” he explained, noting that the Polar Code encouraged Aker Arctic to introduce new services focusing on operational use of the vessels.
In his presentation at the Arctic Passion Seminar, Mr Suojanen highlighted some recent achievements at Aker Artic, including a series of ice trials undertaken by Baltika, the world’s first ‘oblique’ icebreaker, which was built to an Aker Arctic design, construction of a series of Arctic heavy module carriers at GSI in China for RedBox-ZPMC, the first Yamal Arc7 liquefied natural gas carrier, which was launched at DSME in South Korea, the Aker ARC 130 A for Gazprom Neft’s Novy Port project, and a polar logistics vessel to be built at Chantiers Piriou for which the company provided the basic design. This latter vessel will be jointly owned and operated by the French Southern and Antarctic Lands (Terres australes et antarctiques françaises, TAAF) administration, French Polar Institute (Institut polaire français Paul-Émile Victor, IPEV) and the French Navy.
Another important highlight since the last Arctic Passion Seminar in 2015 is the recent launch at Arctech Helsinki Shipyard of an icebreaker for the Finnish authorities that is the first of its type with liquefied natural gas propulsion. Others included an Aker ARC 124 for FSUE Atomflot at Vyborg Shipyard, development of a propeller design service for high ice-class propellers, an integrated bridge solution for ice-class vessels and a design developed in collaboration with Deltamarin for an Arctic Aframax tanker concept.
Also new is the ARC Ice Load Monitoring System (ILMS), a tool for real-time forecasting during ice navigation. The aim of the ILMS is to assist navigation by monitoring ice loads against a vessel. The system consists of a sensor network, data collector, processing and storage unit and display on the bridge. It also collects ship data for analysis purposes. A new feature of the ILMS on which the company is working is a prediction tool that will forecast if there is a risk of ice damage and whether ice loads are increasing or decreasing. “This will be very useful in real-time decision making,” said Mr Suojanen. “With online monitoring … we can monitor system condition and send warnings if necessary. We can also offer owners predictions for ice load pressure and vessel data for an entire season.” He summarised the benefits of the ice load monitoring system as operating as a forecasting tool, online monitoring and warning, seasonal analysis of data and reduced risk of damage from ice. He noted that Aker Arctic Technology and Light Structures have signed an agreement to co-operate on providing fibre-optic sensors for ice load monitoring systems.
As highlighted on a number of occasions in OSJ, dynamic positioning in ice is another area in which a lot of research work in ongoing and Aker Artic is, said Veikko Immonen, a development engineer at Aker Arctic Technology, taking DP model testing capability “to a new level”. He explained that Aker Arctic and Navis Engineering recently signed a co-operation agreement on the development of a better DP system for ice conditions, the goal of the work being to provide more energy-efficient, capable and safe DP systems for ice operations. Short-term R&D objectives include building a functional DP vessel to use in the model basin at Aker Arctic for research, validation and testing purposes and improving control algorithms and functionality of DP systems for ice-covered waters.
Mika Hovilainen, a project manager at Aker Arctic Technology, described the results of the full-scale ice testing undertaken with the Aker ARC 100 Baltika and operational experiences to date with the oblique icebreaker. The vessel has an asymmetric hullform, two azimuth thrusters aft, an azimuth thruster in the bow and can break ice sideways. The vessel is highly manoeuvrable and enables channels wider than the ship itself to be broken. It also functions as an efficient oil spill recovery vessel. The full-scale tests examined the ship’s capability in ahead, astern and oblique mode and its performance in floe ice, channels and ridge fields, turning tests in level ice and its ability to break out of channels.
He explained that concerns have been expressed about the asymmetric hullform causing rolling in ahead waves, potential asymmetric rolling behaviour, low rolling period, high accelerations and slamming. These issues were taken into account during the design process and design solutions sought. Extensive model testing was carried out to optimise solutions, a special bilge keel construction developed and roll reduction tanks implemented. Full-scale tests were conducted offshore Norway in winter storms with wind speeds up to 30 m/s, a significant wave height up to 9m and average speed of 10 knots
Mr Hovilainen explained that there were concerns about the oblique icebreaker’s course stability because the special hullform with minor parallel mid-body has no skeg and is course unstable and because the vessel’s manoeuvring characteristics are not symmetric. With this in mind, a special autopilot was developed for open-water transit, and a DP joystick solution was developed for oblique operations in ice and open water. The results showed that the autopilot keeps course very well, although manual manoeuvring requires concentration. “The DP joystick works extremely well in ice,” he said. The tests also showed that the vessel requires significantly less power compared to a conventional icebreaker, resulting in reduced fuel consumption and emissions.
As highlighted above, among the benefits of the asymmetric hullform and propulsion arrangement are a high level of manoeuvrability and the ability to break wider channels than conventional units. Among the potential disadvantages of the asymmetric hullform were its behaviour in heavy waves and course stability in open water and its reduced displacement, lower deadweight, lower cargo capacity and potential challenges in drydocking. However, as Mr Hovilainen noted, the performance of the oblique icebreaker in ice exceeded expectations, and Baltika’s manoeuvrability in ice was “unique” whilst having adequate open-water characteristics. “Seakeeping was better than a conventional icebreaker, course stability manageable and the oblique icebreaker concept is ready for heavy icebreaker applications,” he told the seminar.