A new vessel for the Arctic

A new kind of vessel is being specially designed to tolerate the tough, frigid conditions in the Arctic.

TOUGH: When the vessel and the propeller are turned, the ship can be operated as an icebreaker. Illustration: STX OSV

In addition to having good operating characteristics in the open sea, the 120-metre intervention vessel has been designed to operate in and make its way through the ice. Given the harsh environment of the Arctic, the vessel has been planned with superstructures to be built in areas where people work – including attempts to get a large crane on the work deck.

The bottom of the ship contains an open well of 7.7 m2 that allows the onloading and offloading of modules from subsea oil and gas installations. In addition, there are additional wells farther back in the ship that will allow the operation of remote-controlled underwater vehicles (ROV – Remotely Operated Vehicles).

Resistance, propulsion and fuel

SINTEF researchers have conducted tests on the resistance, propulsion and sea keeping in the MARINTEK towing tank and ocean basin laboratory to develop an optimal design. Project manager Tor Einar Berg and his colleague Bjørn Ola Berge have led the tests, which have used a scaled-down model.

The design parameters are based on the tasks that the vessel should be able to execute – including consideration of the criteria and thresholds that will allow these tasks to be performed. An important factor has been the ability to reduce fuel consumption and emissions through its design.

In addition to SINTEF, the design company STX OSV, Statoil, NTNU, Aker Arctic Technology in Finland and VTT (a Finnish equivalent of SINTEF) are partners in the three-year KMB project, which is being partially funded by the Research Council of Norway.

Adapted to the waves and motion

The Barents Sea is characterized by very different weather and sea conditions than are found in other seas around Norway. The waves there are lower and shorter, and the weather changes more rapidly – especially in connection with polar lows. There is also seasonal ice in the north-eastern part of the sea. It was thus very important to find as large an operating window as possible in terms of the sea conditions.

“If the movement of the vessel is too great, for example, the workers cannot deploy equipment and ongoing operations have to be interrupted. By adapting the dimensions of the ship to the wave conditions, we can expand its operational limits,” says Tor Einar Berg.

Reduced fuel consumption

Design and layout of the vessel are also important in determining fuel consumption and the amount of greenhouse gases and particulate matter emitted during its operation. The vessel has been designed to have a small environmental “footprint”. The choice of fuel for the ship, whether diesel or natural gas, also affects emissions.

In particular, the use of marine diesel results in dark particulate emissions in the ship’s exhaust. These fine particles fall on the ice, and because of their colour, absorb sunlight and thus melt the ice – which is not desirable in the Arctic.

An icebreaker in the stern

For oil companies, one of the most important features of a vessel of this nature is that it is able to operate when there is ice in the Barents Sea. Currently all equipment maintenance has to be scheduled for the ice-free season, but since problems can arise at any time, companies must also be able to work when there is ice. If a production system has to be shut down because of equipment failure and it takes months to get the system up and running again, the financial losses can be quite high.

The proposed ship has been designed so that it can be turned and operated with the stern facing forwards to push through the ice. The propeller is turned so that the powerful devices to which the propeller is attached – the so-called “head boxes” – can cut through the ice like knives.

This allows the ship to operate as an icebreaker.

“Our job is to find a design that prevents them from becoming too cumbersome, which would slow the ship,” says Berg, who added that the five-metre test model of the vessel had been sent to Finland in February to study how it behaves in the ice.

Åse Dragland