Icebreakers

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Review of Icebreakers

Here you'll find an extensive list of icebreakers (icebreaker ships) operating in the regions of Antarctica (South America and Australia) and the Arctic Ocean - Russia (Asia and Europe) and North America (Canada and USA).

The world's largest icebreaker shipowners (with largest fleets) are countries with large ice-covered territories (Russia, USA and Canada) followed by Finland, Sweden, Germany. Most icebreaking vessels are government-owned, but some are privately-owned (commercially used) ships. Some are nuclear-powered (all Russian-built), the majority being diesel-powered. Icebreaking vessel types are also Russia's new Yamal LNG carriers and oil tankers.

Icebreakers are special-purpose (assisting or research) marine vessels. Some operate on rivers, but most are ocean-going ships able to move and easily navigate through ice-covered seas. Icebreaker ships are mainly used to provide safe passing for other ships (cargo, fishing or riverboats). There are also smaller icebreaker boats and tugboats used on inland waterways (rivers and canals).

(Aker Arctic) new Finnish icebreaker ship design

Note: The above and below computer-generated images represents the new-design Finnish icebreaking ships with ABB Azipod propulsion (total power output 19 MW / 25000 hp). The first of them (Polaris) was launched in April 2016.

(Aker Arctic) new Finnish icebreaker ship design

Often, icebreakers are used to free icebound ships or to tow vessels in distress. Some ice-breakers are used for polar research expeditions in Antarctica and Arctic regions. Even South Africa has such "heavy duty" ships for carrying out scientific studies there.

Today's Arctic offshore drilling operations also need icebreaking vessels to supply the drilling sites with cargo and technical equipment, and also to protect the drilling ships and the oil (gas) platforms from the ice (including from icebergs).

Icebreaker ship design

The icebreaker's design has the following most prominent features:

  1. ice-strengthened hull. Since the sea ice's bending (flexural) strength is low, it usually breaks easily and submerges under the hull. When the ice is thick, the ship drives its bow onto it, and the vessel's weight is used to break it. The hull is made from steels retaining their strength at low temperatures. Additionally, the hull is reinforced (constructed with thicker steels) at the bow (fore), the stern (aft) and the "ice belt" at the waterline (where the hull meets the water surface). The hull is double, and painted with special polymer paints for low friction with the ice.
  2. ice-clearing shape. Broken ice buildups in front of the icebreaker can significantly slow it down. To prevent buildups, the ship's design requires a special hull shape to move the broken ice around the vessel. The hull is gradually sloped at the ship's bow, allowing it to ride up over the ice, so the vessel's weight to break it.
  3. heavy (more DWT tonnage) for their size (for more effective icebreaking)
  4. high output power engines. The vessel's navigation and propulsion systems have some external units (like propellers, shafts, rudder, etc) that can be damaged by the broken ice. This makes the ship's ability to propel itself quickly and to effectively clear the ice debris from its path an essential safety issue. The extra power comes from gas turbines or from the nuclear reactors of the world's largest (Russian) icebreakers.
  5. air-bubbling and heated water-jet systems - below waterline, heated water is jetted to help break the ice and high-pressured air is used to move the debris out of the way.
  6. special water ballast system - it allows the ships to rapidly move large amounts of their ballast water, thus easily shifting weight when needed for the ice-breaking.
  7. propulsion system - when the ship is in motion, its rudder and propellers are protected from the ice by the so called "ice horn" (when in reverse) and "ice knife" (when in forwards). If the propeller hits ice, this won't stop the engine. Additionally, the propellers are made extra strong and with replaceable blades, that can be easily changed at sea. Powerful thrusters help the navigation in tight icepacked spaces. All icebreaker ships have no stabilizers.
  8. powerful lights - most of the operations are done in winter (dark) conditions.
  9. helipad with helicopter - for scientific works, search and rescue operations, spotting open water, guiding the ship.

Arctic icebreaker ship design

Most of the newbuilt icebreakers and many of the newly refitted ones are equipped with Azimuth thrusters (aka Azipods). These new-generation propulsion units replace the traditional "fixed propeller-rudder" system with 360-degree horizontally-rotating pods. These units give the vessel a better maneuverability and an improved ice-breaking capability. Azipods additionally allow the icebreaker to move astern, thus opening a wider channel for the following ships in the convoy. On the above picture you can see another popular ice-breaker design, with 3 bow thrusters mounted inside the hull. Below you see the Baltika ice-breaker ship design.

This is an unique project, that resulted in constructing the world's first marine vessel with an asymmetric (oblique) hull. This allows the ship to also move sideways (with a large angle of attack) for opening a wider channel for bigger ships.

Baltika icebreaker ship design (Russian)

Early history

The first icebreakers were ice-strengthened sail ships used for polar exploration. Their hulls were covered outside with bands of iron, plus metal sheeting at the ship's bow (forward-most part), stern (aft-most part) and along the keel (protruding below and along the ship's central line).

Next-generation icebreakers were steam-powered. Those were wooden steamers propelled by a stern paddlewheel or by two paddle-wheels (mounted portside and starboard). One of the first such ships was constructed in the USA - named "City Ice Boat" and built in 1837 for the city of Philadelphia (Pennsylvania state). Its paddles were made of wood (reinforced with iron).

The first metal-hull icebreaker (with a rounded shape) was Russian - named "Pilot", launched in 1864 and used until 1890 for operations in the Gulf of Finland, Baltic Sea (between Finland, Estonia and Russia). Its bow was also altered for a better ice-clearing capability.

Germany's first ever icebreaker - named "Eisbrecher I" - was built with the Pilot's design and used for operations on Elbe River. The world's first polar icebreaker was built in England. Named "Yermak", the ship was built in 1897 under a Russian Navy's contract. Its weight was 5000 tons, with steam engines delivering a 10000 horsepower (~7450 kW) output. This icebreaker was used until 1963, making it the world's longest serving.

Canada's first icebreakers were used on Saint Lawrence River (connecting the Atlantic Ocean with the Great Lakes). The first Canadian Arctic icebreaker ships were built in 1930 (CGS McLean) and 1952 (CGS D'Iberville).

Diesel icebreakers

The first diesel-powered icebreaker ship was Swedish - the 4330-ton "Ymer" (1933-1977). Its diesel engine delivered 9000 horsepower (~6700 kW) output. The ship had 2 stern propellers and 1 bow propeller. The Finland's first diesel icebreaker was named "Sisu" (1939-1976). After their decommissioning, both were replaced their much larger versions Ymer (1977) and Sisu (1976). The new-design icebreakers featured a short and wide hull (with a rounded bottom) and powerful diesel-electric propulsion with all 3 propellers (2 stern, 1 bow).

(Aker Arctic) icebreaking support vessel design

The first Canadian diesel icebreaker was named "CCGS Labrador" (1952-1987, without a bow propeller). The larger and more powerful version was named "CCGS John A Macdonald" (1960-1994, with power output 15000 hp (~11200 kW) and 3 propeller shafts. The country's largest and most powerful icebreaker ship was named "CCGS Louis S St Laurent" (1969-2017). Its original steam plant delivered 27000 hp (~20130 kW). During its 1993 refit, the ship got a new power plant, consisting of 5 marine diesels, 3 diesel generators and 3 electric motors.

new Chinese icebreaker ship design

The world's most powerful (non-nuclear) icebreaking ships are the USCG vessels Healy (1999) and Mackinaw (2005). They have diesel-electric propulsion with powerplant of 6 marine diesels combined with 3 gas turbines. The power plants generate ~18000 hp (~13 MW) output, and their gas turbines produce a combined ~60000 hp (45 MW) output.

Nuclear icebreakers

All still functioning nuclear-powered icebreaker ships are Russian, most of theme being built during the Soviet Union (USSR) time. The world's first ever was named "NS Lenin" (1959-1989, now a museum ship in Port of Murmansk) and was a civilian vessel. The second was named "NS Arktika" (1975-2008) and was the world's first to reach the Geographic North Pole (August 17, 1977).

In 1993 was launched the world's ever largest icebreaker - 50 Let Pobedy (translated "50 Years of Victory"), but under a different name - "NS Ural". Until 2017, this old Arktika-class (Project 10520) was the world's most powerful icebreaker, equipped with 2x OK-900A nuclear reactors (each generating 37000 hp / 27600 kW power output).

old Arktika-class Russian icebreaker ship design (Project 10520)

Russia's nuclear fleet of ice-breakers is used exclusively in the Arctic Ocean to escort merchant ships and to assist research stations floating in the waters north of Siberia. These nuclear ships are also used for scientific and cruise expeditions, and must sail in ice-cold waters in order to effectively cool their reactors.

Floating nuclear power plant

The world's ever first "floating nuclear power plant" (nuclear reactor at sea) will be built in Russia by October 2016. According to the official news release, this is a floating power generating unit that can be connected via a cable to any offshore or onshore infrastructure to supply it with electricity.

The new technology is unique and has no analogues worldwide. The floating power plant was designed to deliver power to major Russian Arctic Ocean port cities and industrial enterprises (including offshore gas and oil platforms). The new technology allows the power plant to become a marine vessel (displacement tonnage 21,500 tons) manned by a crew of 69.

However, unlike the ice-breaker ships, this is a non self-propelled vessel, so it has to be towed to its destination. On the YouTube video below you can fully enjoy wildlife watching and the Arctic's "icy scenery" views along the North Pole cruise itinerary of this most famous Russian passenger ship.

Russian icebreakers

Note: You can see CruiseMapper's list of all Russian icebreaking vessels in the "Itinerary" section (above, next to "Review")

Rosmorrechflot is Russia's Federal Agency of Sea and River Transport. AARI is an abbreviation for the Russia's "Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute".

new Russian icebreaker ship design (Project 21900)

Russia's leading icebreaker shipbuilding yard is the Baltic Shipyard (Baltiysky Zavod Ordzhonikidze / Балтийский завод Орджоникидзе). It is one of the oldest in Russia (founded 1856). The shipyard is part of the Russian joint stock company USC (United Shipbuilding Corporation / Объединeнная судостроительная корпорация).

Baltic Shipyard is located on the Vasilievsky Island (St Petersburg). It is the shipyard that built most of the Soviet Union's nuclear icebreakers. There is currently being built the Viktor Chernomyrdin ship (the yellow-greenish rendering image above). This is the world's largest and most powerful diesel-engined icebreaker (length 482 ft / 145 m, deadweight 22260 DWT). Next photo shows a diesel-powered ship design.

new Arktika-class Russian icebreaker ship design (Project 22220)

  • NS Arktika (2017, nuclear-powered, Project 22220) - the largest icebreaker in the world
  • NS Sibir (2019, nuclear-powered, Project 22220) - world's largest
  • NS Ural (2020, nuclear-powered, Project 22220) - world's largest
  • Viktor Chernomyrdin (Project 22600, Rosmorport) - built 2017 / under construction

Next image shows the design of the new "Project 21900" Russian ships. A total of 5 vessels were built between 2008-2016. Their names are Moskva (2008), Sankt Peterburg (2009), Vladivostok (1015), Murmansk (2015) and Novorossiysk (2016).

new Arktika-class Russian icebreaker ship design (Project 22220)

Below is shown the "Project 22220" ship design of the Russia's largest nuclear icebreakers currently being under construction in St Petersburg. Their design was developed in 2009 by the Russian research company "Central Design Bureau Iceberg" (St Petersburg-based). This company is a subsidiary of the OJSC company DTsSS ("Dalnevostochnyi Tsentr Sudostroyeniya i Sudoremonta", translated "Far East center for shipbuilding and ship repairs") based in Vladivostok (Primorsky Krai, Russia).

new Arktika-class Russian icebreaker ship design (Project 22220)

Yamal LNG icebreaking vessels

Russia's "Yamal LNG" project (yamallng.ru) included designing and building an Arctic icebreaking LNG carrier (abbrev "liquid natural gas"). By this project, the Korean shipbuilder DSME (Daewoo) built a series of 16 such vessels.

(Aker Arctic) Yamal LNG icebreaker ships design

The ice-breaking LNG carriers particulars are:

  • dual-acting hull form - ice bow (for navigating forward in thin ice and open sea ) and heavy ice-breaking aft (for navigating astern in thick ice)
  • hull steel - prepared for operation in temperatures down to -52 Celsius (-61 Fahrenheit)
  • strengthened hull (with ice belts - forward and aft)
  • ice-breaking capacity - 2,5 m / 8 ft
  • LOA length - 299 m / 980 ft
  • width - 50 m / 164 ft
  • draft - 12 m / 39 ft
  • pod propulsion (3 azimuth thrusters with ~45 MW power output)
  • 2 engine rooms with marine diesel-electric power plants
  • LNG capacity - 172,000 m3
  • each ship has 4-membrane LNG tankers type "GTT NO 96"
  • flag-state / registry - Russia
  • Russian Register standard - RMRS ARC7
  • Bureau Veritas standard - Polar Class 3 and 4
  • shipbuilder - DSME (Daewoo Shipbuilding), Okpo yard
  • shipbuilding cost - USD 300 million (GBP 233 million)
  • These LNG ships are operated by the companies Sovcomflot (1), MOL (3), Teekay Corporation (6) and Dynagas (5). On November 2, 2017, MOL (Mitsui OSK Lines) announced that China's COSCO Shipping Corporation takes a 50% stake in the MOL's wholly owned subsidiary that owns 3 carriers serving the Yamal LNG project.
  • The first of all 3 newbuilds for MOL and China COSCO - LNG-carrier Vladimir Rusanov - was delivered on December 21, 2017. It started long-term charter operations on March 27, 2018. The 2nd and 3rd vessels were scheduled for deliveries in September 2018 and September 2019.
  • An icebreaker LNG carrier transports gas from Hammerfest (Norway) to Boryeong (South Korea) in just 19 days - or 30% quicker than through Suez Canal.

Ships' owner and operator is the company "Yamal LNG". This is a joint-venture between Novatek (Russia's largest LNG producer, 60%), Total SA (multinational, 20%) and CNPC (China's largest oil and gas producer-supplier, 20%).

(Aker Arctic) Yamal LNG icebreaking support vessel design

By the Yamal LNG project:

  • More than 200 wells will be drilled.
  • 1 gas terminal will be built.
  • 3 LNG trains will be constructed, (each with 5,5 million tons per year LNG capacity).
  • 16 ice-breaker LNG tankers will be built.
  • In 2018 were launched Vladimir Rusanov, Vladimir Vize.

Yamal LNG ships are based at Port Sabetta (Yamal Peninsula, Russia), western Siberia (at Ob River's estuary). The USD 27 million facility is ice-bound 9 months in the year. The project ensures the shipping of Russian Arctic natural gas (from the South Tambey gas field) to Europe and Asia.

On May 1, 2018, was the first LNG transshipment from Sabetta (Yamal) to Zeebrugge (Belgium) from an icebreaking carrier to a conventional LNG carrier. The gas transfer (from MS Eduard Toll to MS Pskov) was via Fluxys pipeline network and done at quays 615 and 616 ((outer port). The contract with Fluxys terminal was signed in 2015 and constitutes an annual LNG transhipment of 107 loads (from ice-breaking vessels) to conventional vessels.

Russian ice-breaking LNG tankers

In June 2017 was launched the LNG tanker "Christophe de Margerie" (owned by SCF-Sovcomflot). The vessel became world's first ice-class LNG tanker traveling the Northern Sea Route (Russian Arctic, July through November) without icebreaker escort. The voyage between Asia and Europe takes just 15 days (via Bering Strait), or half the time needed on the route via Suez Canal.

  • In July 2018, Christophe de Margerie made Northern Sea Route record crossing (eastward, Sabetta to Cape Dezhnev), covering 4370 km (2720 ml) for 7 days 17 hours. The vessel navigated without icebreaker support, at average speed 12,8 knots (24 kph / 15 mph). The full voyage Russia-China (Sabetta to Tangshan) took 18,5 days.
  • Inaugurated in December 2017, Christophe de Margerie ship has ice-breaking capacity 2,1 m, propulsion system with power capacity 45 MW (comparable to nuclear-powered icebreakers), 29 crew (including 13 officers).

In the end of September 2017, Sovcomflot (SCF Group), Rosneft (STLC) and Zvezda Shipbuilding signed an agreement package for the construction of all 5 Aframax icebreaking tankers to serve crude oil and oil products export shipments (year-round operations in ice-covered regions in Northern Europe and Asia).

  • Each of the 114,000 DWT ships was built by Zvezda Shipbuilding partnering with HHI (Hyundai Heavy Industries, Korea).
  • Vessels' owner and operator is Sovcomflot (SCF). They were scheduled for delivery in 2021.
  • These icebreaking LNG-powered oil tankers were designed to use LNG as primary fuel and also to comply with most stringent IMO regulations and standards concerning SOx, NOx and CO2 emissions. These regulations come into effect from the year 2020.

In October 2017, Rosnefteflot signed with Zvezda Shipbuilding agreements for building of all 10 Arctic shuttle oil tankers. At the same time, Rosnefteflot (subsidiary of Rosneft / Russian oil company majority state-owned) signed with Taimyrneftegaz a 20-year time charter agreement for the 10 tankers.

  • ice-class ARC7
  • deadweight 42,000 tons
  • ice-breaking capacity up to 1,8 m (6 ft)
  • lowest operational temperature -45 C (-49 F)
  • vessel deliveries - from 2023 onward
  • These tankers transport crude oil produced at Paiyakhskoe field (Enisey River) on both eastbound and westbound itineraries along Northern Sea Route.

Russian icebreaker oil tankers

In the end of October 2015, the shipbuilder Samsung (South Korea) started building a series of 6 icebreaking tankers by the project "42К Arctic Shuttle Tanker" surveyed by RS (Russia's Maritime Register of Shipping). The order was placed by SCF Group - owner of 3 of the ships, which operator is Sovcomflot. Vessel's particulars are:

  • ice-breaking capacity - 2,1 m / 7 ft
  • LOA length - 248 m / 814 ft
  • breadth / width - 34 m / 112 ft
  • depth - 15 m / 49 ft
  • draught / draft - 9,5 m / 31 ft
  • Deadweight Tonnage (DWT) - 42,000 tons
  • flag-state / registry - Russia

All named after famous Russian arctic explorers, these 6 vessels are of dual class (RS and LR), intended for high-latitudes and year-round operations at extreme temperatures (down to -45 Сelsius). Their purpose is crude oil shipping from Gulf of Ob (aka Ob Bay, at the mouth of Ob River, Kara Sea). Completion and delivery of the first ice-breaking tanker was scheduled for June 2016. The whole series was completed in 2017.

Russian oil tanker icebreaker ship design (Kapitan Gotsky)

SCF is the owner and Sovcomflot the operator of MS Kapitan Gotsky - 2008-built oil tanker with DWT 70,000 tons, ice-class 1A (strengthened hull.

Russian icebreaking container-cargo ship

A truly unique vessel is the Russian nuclear iceabreaker NS Sevmorput (built 1988). Its cargo capacity is 74 lighters (flat-bottomed barges of 300 tons capacity each) or 1328 TEU containers (TEU = twenty-foot equivalent unit).

NS Sevmorput nuclear icebreaker ship design (container ship)

This is currently the only one nuclear merchant ship in the world - operational and still in service. Sevmorput is also the newest of the all 4 nuclear cargo ships in the world ever constructed - together with:

  • NS Mutsu (Japan, launched 1972, decommissioned 1992), rebuilt as ocean observation vessel named "Mirai"
  • NS Savannah (USA, launched 1962, decommissioned 1972), now museum ship
  • NS Otto Hahn (Germany, launched 1968), scrapped 2009

Among the Russian ice-breaker cargo vessels are:

  • Vasily Golovnin (FESCO, general cargo ship)*
  • MS Norilskiy Nickel (container ship)* - diesel-powered icebreaking cargo ship, designed and built in Germany. This cargo carrier operates independently on an year-around schedule in Siberia - without the assistance of an icebreaker.
  • MV Nunavik (bulk carrier)*

Russian Arctic research shipplatform

In the end of March 2018, Russia announced plans to build a research shipplatform for year-round autonomous operations in the Arctic region.

  • The self-propelled platform has highest ice-class hull and capacity to operate autonomously in Arctic waters for up to 3 years,
  • The "North Pole" ship features nuclear powerplant, helicopter-landing platform, latest maritime and research equipment. The new shipplatform will replace all Russian research stations currently based on drifting ice floes. USSR (later Russia) has floating Arctic research stations since 1937, excepting the break 1991-2003.
  • The EUR 98 million shipbuilding project is a joint venture with Roshydromet (Russia's federal meteorological agency). Construction works start in 2019.

Australia-UK-Canada-USA icebreakers

Follows the list of UK and US icebreaker ships. Some of them (prefixed with "USCGC" and "CCGS") are in service for the USCG ("United States Coast Guard") and CCG ("Canadian Coast Guard") in the Alaskan and Arctic waters (North America). "NSF" states for "National Science Foundation" (an US Government's research and education agency). "BAS" states for "British Antarctic Survey" (an UK Government's research organisation).

USCGC Mackinaw icebreaker ship design

On January 13, 2016, the USCG released requirements for 2 new heavy icebreakers at budget cost USD 1 billion each. There was a meeting with the interested companies in March 2016. The proposed ships will be in use for 40 years. Among the listed requirements are:

  • heavy ice-breaking capability (min 6 ft / 2 m) at continuous 3 kn speed (3,5 mph / 5,6 kph)
  • ability to break a single-pass channel min 83 ft / 25 m wide
  • operational range min 21500 nautical miles (24,440 miles / 40,000 km) at speed 12 kn (14 mph / 22 kph) in ice free waters
  • min 80 days without food or fuel replenishment

Among the bidders were the US companies Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc (builder of the newest US icebreaker USCGC Healy (delivered in 1999) and General Dynamics Corp (major US military shipbuilder). For comparison, while the USA has only 2 operational icebreaker ships, Russia has 42 (with another 12 planned or already under construction) and China has 2. The USCG warned that as the Arctic Ocean opens to tourism, mining and oil drilling, the US risks to not have enough capacity for search and rescue ops and also for oil spill response missions.

(new) Australian Antarctic icebreaker

In October 2015, the Government of Australia revealed a new icebreaker ship design and announced a contract for building a marine science research and supply ice-breaking vessel. Classified as ASRV ("Antarctic Supply Research Vessel") it will allow an extended access to Antarctica and the Southern Ocean. The ship's equipment also includes a Multibeam Bathymetric Echo Sound system (for seabed mapping), a stern helipad, 3 cargo cranes. Portable research laboratories will boast latest technology equipment.

new Australian Antarctic icebreaker ship design

  • Ship design is by the Dutch company Knud E Hansen AS (specializing in naval architecture and marine engineering).
  • Shipbuilder is the Holland-based company Damen Shipyards Group.
  • The contract was signed with the UK-based DMS Maritime - the Australia's largest maritime services provider (part of Serco Group).
  • The new Antarctic icebreaker shipbuilding project has a budget of AUD 1 billion (USD ~720 million).
  • The ship will be commissioned in April 2020.

(new) Chinese icebreaker ship

ABB propulsion system (Azipod thrusters) will power a new Chinese research icebreaking vessel - the first of this type to be built in China. The ship will be equipped with two Azipod VI propulsion units (combined power output 15 MW).

new Chinese icebreaker ship design

Each of the ABB's propulsion units consists of electrical motor connected to a fixed-pitch propeller (mounted on the motor shaft). The thruster is able to turn 360 degrees.

  • The ship's displacement is 14300 tons.
  • The ship will be powered by four diesel engines. Along with both Azipod VI units, ABB also supplies A100-M turbochargers for enhanced engine load response.
  • The ice-breaking capability is up to 1,5 m (5 m) forwards and backwards, at continuous speed of 2-3 knots (2,3-3,5 mph / 3,7-5,5 kph).
  • The vessel will be operated by "Polar Research Institute of China".
  • China;s other icebreaker is named Xue Long.

About 1/4 of the world's oil and gas resources lie beneath the Arctic Ocean waters. The list of states that already laid claims to Arctic territories includes Russia, Norway, Denmark (because of Greenland), Canada and the USA. Note: Most of the technical information on this page is sourced from Wikipedia. To share our icebreakers ship tracking hub page, use the social media button links.

)n March 16, 2018, Aker Arctic signed a deal with ICEYE ("synthetic aperture radar" SAR provider) for developing and providing microsatellite data relaited to sea ice conditions. The data is provided to Aker Arctic serviced vessels navigating in icy conditions (icebreaking and polar expedition ships). The new SAR satellite data combined with maritime-gathered data and analytics provides cost-efficient service to Aker Arctic customers. During the project's 1-year pilot phase was developed and tested the new services. In 2018, ICEYE launched 2 new microsatellites (ICEYE-X1, ICEYE-X2) specifically designed for this service. ICEYE announced company's plans to build a network of 18 SAR satellites for accurately imaging the entire planet every few hours.

Itinerary of Icebreakers

Since the fall of the USSR, many icebreakers (including nuclear-powered) are also operated as cruise ships in the Arctic Ocean - to carry cruise passengers to the North Pole. The itinerary lasts about 20 days, with prices reaching up to USD 25000 per person. Most of the modern Russian icebreakers ("ledokol" / "ледокол" in Russian) have an separate cabin deck for tourists.

new Russian diesel icebreaker ship (Project 21900)

Follows the complete list of Russian icebreakers in active service. A small but most unusual cruise travel niche, the ice breaker ship travel's popularity prompts most of the Russian ice-breaking vessels to be also operated as cruise ships under charter by both domestic and foreign operators.

These unique ships operate on itineraries in the Russia’s Arctic Ocean waters, with departures mostly from Europe, but also from Far-East Russia (Asia) ports. Notes: In brackets are shown shipowners. All nuclear ships are state-owned and managed/operated by Rosatom (a state corporation) through Atomflot. Rosmorport is a state-owned company (a Federal State Unitary Enterprise).

Northwest Passage route map

On the map here you can see the routes of the two classic Arctic Ocean expedition cruise itineraries. These ice-breaker ship travel itineraries usually start in Europe. The Northeast Passage itinerary is along the Russia's coast, while the "Northwest Passage" itinerary includes Greenland, Canada and the USA (Alaska).

Most icebreaker ships are used to keep the ice-covered shipping trade routes open. The regions where icebreakers are most needed are Baltic Sea, Great Lakes, Saint Lawrence Seaway, the Arctic Sea Route. There, icebreakers escort cargo vessel convoys through the ice-packed waters.

On the next map you can see all major destination ports of call and the exact sailing route of a Russian Arctic icebreaker cruise ship itinerary. For foreign tourists, it usually starts with a flight from USA to Russia - Anchorage (Alaska) to the embarkation port Anadyr (Chukotka).

Russia Arctic icebreaker cruise itinerary map

List of Russian icebreakers

Follows a list of all (including new) Russian icebreaking vessels (some currently under construction). In brackets is shown the scheduled year of launch.

List of British, Australian, Canadian and USA icebreakers

In the following list, in brackets is shown the year of launch and the country that owns the vessel.

RSV Nuyina icebreaker (Australian Antarctic ship)

  • Aurora Australis (1990, Australia)
  • Nuyina (2020, Australia)
  • Hudson (river icebreaker, Canada)
  • Nathaniel B Palmer (1992, NSF)
  • Laurence M Gould (1997, NSF)
  • Sikuliaq (2014, NSF)
  • Aiviq (2012, ECO - "Edison Chouest Offshore" - marine transportation companies, USA)
  • RRS James Clark Ross (1991, BAS UK)
  • RRS Ernest Shackleton (1995, BAS UK) - chartered
  • RRS Sir David Attenborough (2019, BAS UK)
  • HMS Protector (2001, UK Royal Navy patrol ship)
  • CCGS Amundsen (1979)
  • CCGS Des Groseilliers (1982)
  • CCGS Terry Fox (1983, sister to Vladimir Ignatyuk / Arctic Kalvik)
  • CCGS Henry Larsen (1987)
  • CCGS Pierre Radisson (1987)
  • CCGS Samuel Risley (1985)
  • CCGS John G Diefenbaker (2021-2022)
  • CCGS Louis S St Laurent (1969)
  • USCGC Polar Sea (cutter, inactive)*
  • USCGC Polar Star (1977, cutter)
  • USCGC Healy (1999, cutter)
  • USCGC Mackinaw (2006, cutter)

List of Icebreaking ships by other countries

In the following list, in brackets is shown the year of launch and the vessel's country.

  • Aurora Borealis (European Union project)
  • Araon (South Korea) 2009
  • Ale (Sweden) 1973
  • Elsava (river icebreaker, Germany)
  • Frej (Sweden) 1975
  • Kontio (Finland) 1987
  • Kronprins Haakon (Norway) 2017
  • MSV Botnica (Estonia) 1998
  • MSV Fennica (Finland) 1993
  • MSV Nordica (Finland) 1994
  • L'Astrolabe (France) 2017
  • Oden (Sweden) 1982
  • Otso (Finland) 1985
  • Polaris (Finland) 2016
  • Polar Pevek (Norway) 2006
  • Polarstern (Germany) 1982
  • Rothelstein (river icebreaker, Austria) 1995
  • Shirase (Japan) 1983
  • Sisu (Finland) 1976
  • Urho (Finland) 1975
  • Xue Long (China; translated "Snow Dragon") 1993
  • Ymer (Sweden) 1976
  • (under construction, not named yet) project Arctech 510 (yard number NB 510, Finland)
  • MT Mastera and MT Tempera (crude oil carriers - icebreaking tankers, Finland) - year-round crude oil shipping from Russia to Finland (Primorsk oil terminal to Porvoo and Naantali refineries of Neste Oil)*

In late November 2014, Finland’s “Cabinet Committee on Economic Policy” released an official statement regarding the country’s aging icebreaking fleet. According to the statement, the old fleet will be fully replaced with new icebreakers by the year 2029. The project’s overall cost is approx EURO 1 billion. The new vessels (like Polaris) must be multipurpose icebreakers (including for Arctic oil explorations).

Follows a list of ice-strengthened expedition and research vessels, which are often chartered for polar cruise itineraries to Arctic and Antarctic destinations.

Icebreakers related cruise news