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Back to SSG 12

“Botnica” with deck cargo in the port of Galveston during a charter to the Gulf of Mexico last winter. Photo: Finstaship

From the North Sea to the Arctic:
Finstaship combines icebreaking and offshore

After more than ten years of operations with combined icebreakers and offshore vessels both in the North Sea and other waters, the next step for Finstaship will be to conquer the Arctic.

In the beginning of the 1990’s a new generation of Finnish icebreakers was designed. An essential part of the project was to employ the vessels commercially during the summer season. The main problem was to develop an efficient icebreaker with good sea keeping qualities in open water.

The naval architects and naval engineers in Finland developed a hull design optimised for icebreaking as well as open-water operations. The first unit was ordered in October 1991, and the contract included an option for a sister vessel, which was confirmed in June 1992.

Finland’s first multi-purpose ice breaker Fennica was delivered to the Finnish Maritime Administration by Finnyards in Rauma (now Aker Yards) in March 1993, followed by the sister vessel Nordica in January 1994. The third, smaller multi-purpose icebreaker Botnica was delivered by the Aker Finnyards Rauma shipyard in June 1998.

Long term charter
The concept was enabled by an agreement with the Norwegian company Ugland Offshore, later to be transferred to DSND Offshore, about long term employment of the vessels during the ice-free season. In 2002 Haliburton Offshore and DSND combined resources and formed Subsea 7 and the charter of the multi-purpose icebreakers was transferred to this company.

After a reorganisation of the Finnish Maritime Administration came into force in beginning of 2004, the ownership and management of its fleet was transferred to the state-owned enterprise Finstaship.

Together with Norwegian partners, Finstaship established the Norwegian company GDV Maritime AS in 2004, which handles the global marketing of Finstaship’s multi-purpose icebreakers for offshore operations. Finstaship holds a third of the company. Finstaship also markets themselves.

When the operations started in 1993 and 1994 with the first two multi-purpose icebreakers, it was agreed that the vessels should be employed in offshore duties for about 180 days of the year. For the remaining time they returned to Finland – no matter if there was a need for operating the whole icebreaker fleet or not.
“Now the focal point in employing the three multi-purpose icebreakers has been shifted more and more towards offshore activities”, explains Senior Vice President Håkan Gustafsson at Finstaship, who is in charge of Deep Sea Services.
“The vessels return to Finland for the winter only if they are needed for icebreaking. Last winter, when the activities on the offshore sector remained busy, Finstaship chose to replace both Botnica and Nordica with third party icebreakers for the icebreaking peak of the winter. This made it possible to keep their own vessels working on the oil fields without interruptions. The operations of these vessels have thus become much more flexible, and the role of the offshore employment has grown significantly”, he continues.

  “Nordica” during construction work in the North Sea. Photo: Finstaship

Fierce competition
Finstaship’s main customers are the large contractors in the offshore industry, which usually do not have similar vessels of their own. For example, during this season Nordica is on charter to Subsea 7 Norway, and is employed in construction work. Fennica is employed with ROV-operations for Subsea 7 UK in several oil fields. Botnica will during this summer mainly be employed with well abandonment in the North Sea on charter to the Aberdeen-based company TS Marine.

According to Mr Gustafsson, the competition in the sector employing larger offshore vessels is fierce. During the years, Finstaship has established a good reputation on the market.

“But nothing may be taken for granted. Just having the suitable vessels is not enough. However we have long and good relationships with several customers. They know how we work and that we are reliable”, Mr Gustafsson says.

Special for Botnica and Nordica are their 160 t cranes. Large lifting capacity is needed in the installation of various types of construction pre-built on shore. They also have large deck areas for cargo. In addition to that, heavy lift capacity is also needed in repair work. Another important quality is their large accommodation area, with capacity to take on board a large number of external workers.

“The cranes have been good investments, making the vessels sought after on the market”, Mr Gustafsson confirms.

The vessels are also frequently used for other purposes, such as ROV-operations. Their large bollard pull makes them also suitable for different tasks where large power is needed.

“Anchor handling tugs may have larger bollard pull, but as they are smaller than our vessels they do not have as versatile equipment either. Our vessels are extremely flexible as many different functions are combined in them”, Mr Gustafsson explains.

Arctic next
When planning for the future, Finstaship is focusing on offshore activities in the Arctic regions.

“This combines our main fields of know-how: icebreaking and offshore. It is a combination that we think would be very successful”, Mr Gustafsson says.

Combining arctic offshore with icebreaking would be ideal to Finstaship. The hull form of an Arctic multi-purpose icebreaker/offshore vessel could be optimized for constant operations in ice and cold climate with no need for open-water compromises. As the conditions are extremely harsh in the Russian Arctic, the offshore activities would cease for the winter, and the vessels could be employed, for example, in the Baltic Sea as icebreakers.

“Such a concept would make it more interesting to invest in new icebreakers. Our present multi-purpose icebreakers are built as icebreakers, making them very expensive, but still they are working in open water for most of the time.”

There are plans existing for the next generation of icebreakers, but before any orders are to be expected there must be employment for them.

“Such a vessel would cost some EUR 100 million, and before it can be ordered we need a long term charter for them”, Mr Gustafsson says. “However, it will sooner or later be nescessary to replace our oldest icebreakers, and the new icebreakers will most likely be multi-purpose vessels.”

Finstaship is working on several projects related to Arctic offshore operations.
“We have discussions with several potential customers, and there is a large interest both on the North American and Russian market. Everyone would like to start the Arctic activities as soon as possible, but it takes some time. When the time is ready we are definitively going to be there”, Mr Gustafsson concludes.

//Pär-Henrik Sjöström

Latest update 18-10-2006 8:49


No 24/2008
SST Ships of the Year

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