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Seppo Liukkonen GL

Seppo Liukkonen GL

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Published by: api-27176519 on Oct 18, 2008
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Seppo Liukkonen

The shipping of oil by tankers from the Russian oil terminals at the Baltic Sea is increasing. This makes this rather isolated sub-arctic sea area more and more important from the point of view of safe ice-going tankers. In first place the safe tanker traffic in the area all year round including the winter season is important for the Baltic Sea coastal states. Additionally, the Baltic Sea is often called also as a \u201claboratory\u201d for the real Arctic and the experiences from the Baltic Sea winters can be utilised to certain extend also for Arctic tanker projects and operations.

This paper describes the ice conditions of the Baltic Sea and the requirements these ice conditions put on the ice-going tankers operating in the area. A brief overview of the tankers in the Baltic Sea traffic today is also given.


The Baltic Sea is a rather isolated sea area of approximately 422 000 km2 in total area. It is connected to the Atlantic Ocean through the Danish Straits, through which the water of the Baltic Sea is estimated to be changed once in a period of approximately 25 years. Due to this minor exchange of water with the Atlantic Ocean and due to the several rivers discharging into the Baltic Sea the water in the Baltic Sea is less saline than the water in the oceans. The salinity of the Baltic Sea water, called as brackish water, varies from 0 % to approximately 2 %. The zero salinity can be found in the Northern part of the Bay of Bothnia and close to the Neva River in the East end of the Gulf of Finland. The highest salinity can be found in the Southern Baltic Sea.

The average depth of the Baltic Sea is only 60 m with the deepest point being 450 m.
There is practically no tide in the Baltic Sea and the sea currents are weak.

From the shipping point of view an essential fact of the Baltic Sea traffic is the draught limitation. The shallowness of the Danish Straits does not allow ships with draught deeper than 15.4 m to sail to the Baltic Sea. This limits the tankers useful at the Baltic Sea to the so-called \u201cAframax\u201d-size, i.e., to the size of less than 150 000 tonnes in dead weight.

From the environmental point of view the IMO has named the Baltic Sea as a special sea area with several restrictions for the discharge of oil, oily water, oily waste and garbage into the sea as well for the emissions into the air. Additionally, the Helcom (Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission) has issued several recommendations for safe shipping and protection of the marine environment at the Baltic Sea.

In addition to the features above the presence of ice is one of the most typical features characterising the shipping in the Baltic Sea. Even tough the Baltic Sea is ice-free for the biggest part of the year, at least the northernmost parts of it, namely the Bay of Bothnia and the Gulf of Finland freeze every year. In a harsh winter all coastal waters of the whole Baltic Sea can be frozen leaving a small open water area only in the middle of the Southern Baltic Sea. Thus, the vessels intended for the year-round traffic at the Baltic Sea must be designed and built for sailing in ice.


All the ice in the Baltic Sea is first-year ice. Every year, actually for the biggest part of the year, there is an open-water season. Depending on the location, the ice at the Baltic Sea is appearing for 0 - 6 months during a year. The longest time with ice is of course in the north at the Bay of Bothnia. However, the almost equally long time with ice is encountered also in the easternmost end of the Gulf of Finland that due to the Russian oil terminals is an important area for tanker traffic.

The ice formation starts in the Bay of Bothnia normally in November and in the Gulf of Finland in December. The main direction of freezing is from North to south at the Bay and Gulf of Bothnia and from east to west at the Gulf of Finland. Locally the coastal waters inside the archipelago freeze first and then the ice edge extends towards the centre parts of the sea.

The maximum extend of the ice cover at the Baltic Sea is encountered statistically in March. After middle of March the ice usually starts to melt so that by the middle of May the whole Gulf of Finland and by the end of May the northernmost part of the Bay of Bothnia are usually free of ice.

The yearly variations of the extend of the ice cover, however, are big. The figure 1 below shows the maximum extends of the ice covers at the Baltic Sea in 1987 and 1989.

Fig. 1: The maximum extend of ice cover at the Baltic Sea in 1987 (left) and 1989
(right) /1/.

The maximum level ice thickness measured in the northernmost part of the Bay of Bothnia is 1.21 m /2/. In the eastern part of the Gulf of Finland the level ice can reach the thickness up to 0.80 m /3/. However, the level ice, especially the static one in the archipelago, is not the worst obstacle for the winter navigation at the Baltic Sea. A more demanding obstacle for the ships is the pressure ridges formed by the wind moving the ice fields. The thickness of such ice ridges can exceed ten meters. Thus, for normal merchant ships, even with higher ice classes, it is usually impossible to penetrate through such ice formations, but the icebreaker assistance is needed.

Another difficult situation for a merchant ship is the compressive ice field. When a strong wind tends to move the ice field against a solid object, e.g., an island or the coastline, it creates pressure in the ice field. This increases the resistance that the ship must over come, when moving in such a pressing ice field. And if the ship will be stuck in such an ice field, the wind can push the ice against the ship\u2019s hull with such a force that can generate damages in the ship\u2019s hull.


Depending on the severity of the ice situation the Baltic Sea coastal states set traffic restrictions for the vessel traffic into their ports during the ice season. The restrictions are given to ensure the safety of ships sailing in ice and to ensure the smoothly- running traffic to and from the ports along the icy fairways. Principles for the ice restrictions can be found e.g., in the Helcom recommendation 25/7 \u201cSafety of Winter Navigation in the Baltic Sea Area\u201d.

At the territorial waters of Finland the Finnish Maritime Administration (FMA) defines restrictions to the traffic to the Finnish ports during the winter. The restrictions, which theoretically are restricting only the icebreaker assistance given to

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