Breaking the ice on ice-class tankers

A two-hour seminar hosted by Lloyd’s Register (LR) in London last week focused on the increase in interest and demand for ice-class tankers. Covering aspects relating to the market drivers in this trend, but detailing the overriding technical issues now arising, Niels Overgaard and Rob Tustin gave the view of the classification societies.

Noting that the Former Soviet Union (FSU) is now considered as the growth area in oil supply, with an export increase of 50% since 1996, exports from this region will predominantly transit through ice-covered waters, namely the North Baltic, Arctic and far eastern FSU. With transits set to increase through these regions over the next decade, a set of new challenges for the tanker sector, both technically and operationally, are expected in order to meet the demand. New building trends now see some 30 orders for ice-class tankers, all due for delivery in the next three to four years. Depending on the level of ice-class notation, ice-class requirements represent an increase in newbuilding costs between 1% and 10% for the owner.

Operating under ice conditions is not a new phenomenon yet Lloyd’s Register was keen to point out that there are a number of areas in which operations in these conditions require extra consideration and further research. Noting that there exists a number of varying rules and regulations regarding operations in ice, LR went on to explain that ice class requirements, as far as newbuilding criteria is concerned, have yet to be harmonised. This adds further complications for the owner who will have to trade through areas in which varying national and regional requirements may exist. As a rule however, the Swedish-Finnish Rules are seen as the highest common denominator and are more commonly used by the yards for hull, machinery and engine power requirements.

On a more technical level, it was explained that the focus for ice-class notation is centred upon the propeller shaft and blade strength, scantlings, and rudder and steering gear protection. Issues relating to coatings and low-temperature operation of deck machinery were only touched upon briefly during the seminar. With a noticeable increase in size of ice-class tankers, engine power was also seen as a major feature for this specialist design. Ice-class suezmax tankers are now being built with an equivalent power output to regular VLCCs.

The majority of the current 30 ice-class newbuildings have been specification upgrades for ice-class notation and LR noted that the majority of yards are now capable of ice-class construction. The focus, however, is on flexibility, with tankers mainly being designed for open water service, yet with the flexibility to trade in ice conditions.

It appears that the design, construction and operation of ice-class tankers is still a new science, or even an art, as the hosts were keen to point out, with a number of research projects still underway. As a consequence, from a technical and operational point of view there still appears to be a great deal of trial and error involved. The range in ice-class notation however remains wide, from the ice-breaking double acting tankers (DAT) to the class I, II and III notation tankers, perhaps signifying an uncertainty within the market as to the future regulatory requirements.

Some major questions, aside from market and technical requirements, still remain unanswered though. Little was mentioned by way of the effect on the potential designation of ice covered waters as Particularly Sensitive Sea Areas (PSSA) via the IMO, and hence the possibility that, under international law, an attempt could be made to specify ice-class requirements on tankers transiting these waters. Additionally, a number of questions were raised regarding the navigation within iced waters, specifically in relation to anchorage times and also the adequacy and availability of ice breaker assistance as provided for by the port states.

A copy of the LR presentation can be downloaded from the INTERTANKO website.

Contact: Tim Wilkins