World’s First Ice-Breaking Tanker Ships Will Plough Through Arctic Route

Crushing their way across the top of the world
The Arc7's knife-shaped double hull breaks ice at both ends. It consists of two layers of steel reinforced by ice belts on the bow and stern. Ice belts are bands of extra-thick steel that extend from a meter above the waterline to a meter below. Additional internal ribs brace the ice belts from within the ship's structure to absorb the stress of crashing through 7-foot-thick ice. Sensors inside the hull continuously run fatigue analysis to sniff out weakening areas all the way down its 300-meter-long structure. Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering

There’s a lucrative shipping route between Europe and Asia that has the potential to cut thousands of miles and months of time off the trip. The only catch: it’s covered with thick, ship-sinking Arctic ice.

Heavy ice blocks the Arctic route from December to July, more than half the year. Even with icebreaking escort ships, few merchant vessels run it.

Now, Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering is building the world’s first icebreaker tankers–16 of them–to carry liquid natural gas (LNG) through the route year-round. LNG tankers today have to be escorted by icebreaking ships that clear the way through the Northern Sea Route.

The Yamal LNG project, run by companies in Russia, France, and China, proposes drilling more than 200 wells in the Arctic to produce 16.5 million tons of LNG per year, supported by Daewoo’s first 16 Arc7 tankers. Year-round, Yamal LNG will ship LNG from the project’s Sabetta port in Russia’s Yamal Peninsula westward to Europe, South America, India, China, and South Korea. For the warmer half of the year, it’ll also ship east from Sabetta to Japan and South Korea.

As Russia leans more heavily on fuel exports and the prices for them drip lower and lower, a dormant 17th-century Russian ambition is coming back to life: to open the Arctic year-round.

Here is how the icebreaker tanker will work: