Radical new icebreaker will travel through the ice sideways


August 2, 2013

The NB 508 (aka the Baltika) crashes through the ice side-on (Image: Arctech Helsinki Shipyard)

The NB 508 (aka the Baltika) crashes through the ice side-on (Image: Arctech Helsinki Shipyard)

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Given that icebreakers clear a path for other ships by traveling through the ice head-on (or sometimes butt-on), then in order for one of them to clear a wider path, it would have to be wider and thus larger overall ... right? Well, Finland’s Arctech Helsinki Shipyard is taking a different, more efficient approach. It’s in the process of building an asymmetric-hulled icebreaker that can increase its frontal area, by making its way through the ice at an angle of up to 30 degrees.

Arctech refers to the ship as “Icebreaking rescue vessel NB 508,” although according to a report in New Scientist, it’s also known as the Baltika. It’s being built for the Russian Ministry of Transport, and will be used not only for icebreaking, but also for rescue and oil spill cleanup duties in the Gulf of Finland.

The ship will be moved along by three propulsors on its underside, each one of which can rotate 360 degrees. This means that it will have no problem moving forwards, backwards, or sideways. By hitting the ice at an oblique angle, it will be able to clear a 50-meter (164-foot)-wide path – not too shabby, considering the NB 508 itself will have a breadth of only 20.5 m (67 ft), and a length of 76 m (249 ft).

Three diesel generators will provide a total power of 9 MW and a total propulsion power of 7.5 MW. That should be enough to send it through ice up to 0.6 meter (2 ft) thick when moving sideways, or 1 meter (3.3 ft) when going bow- or stern-first.

The NB 508 was designed by Aker Arctic Technology, and has been under construction at Arctech since June 28. It’s scheduled for delivery to the client by next spring (Northern Hemisphere).

Source: Arctech Helsinki Shipyard via New Scientist

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

They need to work fast before there is no more ice to break :)

Jerry Peavy

I wonder if her engines will be able to eat scooped up oil. that would really add to the efficiency in oil spill cleanup.


A quibble: Ice-breakers do not work by "smashing" through the ice, nor does "hitting the ice" work.

Instead, they slide up onto the ice using a very different hull shape to the normal deep water cargo ship, and quite inefficient and uneconomic for normal sailing. Their power is used to slide up as far a possible, and their *weight is what breaks up the ice, allowing it to be pushed aside.

This is a small and therefore relatively light vessel, cleverly designed to be able to break open a path for wider vessels, but is only able to deal with 'thin' ice. ‘Thanks’ to our influence in increasing temperature of the planet, and the clearly observed reductions in Arctic ice, 0.6m is presumable as thick as it gets now, in the Gulf of Finland. Anyone have data on ice thicknesses there?

Still, a very cost effective solution I should think, and helpful for the usually very tight Russian budgets.


Squidge's analysis exactly dovetails with mine. This is a new generation of icebreaker designed for a world with a changing climate. Its width suggests that it will be used to keep Arctic seaways open, expanding the shipping season in the remote North.

Jim Peterson
I simply don't see this design being practical at all. The Russians operate some excellent ice breakers that can handle thicker ice as well. Or there might be some consideration for booms with large air hammers that could smash ice. Even grinding tools that look like a huge chain saw might be worthwhile. Jim Sadler

I am surprised there would be any attempt to break up the ice. With global warming, it would only melt the polar caps faster.


Sqidge: "...our influence in increasing temperature..." I have seen no evidence for your claim, i.e., I have seen all so-called evidence refuted.

Furthermore, the record of the last 650,000 years shows no correlation between warming and carbon dioxide.

Don Duncan

The “Icebreaking rescue vessel NB 508,” Baltika is designed for a specific place doing specific jobs. Making able to break thicker ice would not add to her functionality but it would add greatly to her cost.

Get back to me with your predictions of global warming when your scientists have models that match historical and current conditions.

I have thought that a vessel slips under the ice and then breaks the ice upwards and then pushes the broken ice off to the sides like a snowplow would leave the lane open longer.


Slowburn: There's lots of refining that takes place in between crude oil & diesel fuel. A ship that could "refine as it goes" would be enormous & enormously expensive.


Duncan - you don't have your head in the sand you have it up your tail. The so called refutation you refer to is itself as biased and phony as the doubters of Global warming. 99% of all the scientist in the world attest to the fact that the earth is getting warmer. The ice packs are getting smaller, the world is getting warmer, the extremes of weather are getting stronger and more frequent. The nay sayers first denied this until it was too obvious. Now they claim it is a natural occurrence and man had no influence. World populations have doubled, resources have been raped, greedy industrialist are reaping the benifits, and humanity will pay dearly in the long run. After we destroy the planet. Nature will recover, it may take one hundred million years, but the lesson will be learned.


"I have thought that a vessel slips under the ice and then breaks the ice upwards"

And I doubt that buoyancy is a stronger force than in-the-air gravity.

Ron Johnson

Needs LENR, other LT engine fuel for all icebreakers. Now upscale even more & do 3X damage to ice floes.

Stephen Russell

re; theotherwill

In the dim days of yore there where diesel engines that burned crude oil and the fuel most commonly used in large maritime diesel engines is Bunker C oil burning former oil-slick in a marine diesel is not an unreasonable idea even if you have to mix in some expensive stuff. According to some sources refineries refuse to accept crud that has been spilled. Given that the lost highly volatile chemicals are the most valuable it makes sense.

re; Ron Johnson

Submarines can punch through some ice to surface, and if you add some saws of some sort.


Having worked on four icebreakers (Katmai Bay, Westwind, Northwind, and Polar Sea) I find this news exciting.

Those enterprising Fins.... Got to admire them.

And sad the American and Canadian icebreaker fleets are but ciphers of their former selves... Maybe Washington is counting on climate change to negate the need for them.

Taximan Lindsey
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