in the area of
ship conversions

Since Willem Barentsz tested himself to the limit on the Northern Sea Route at the end of the 16th century, the seas to the north of Russia have become increasingly navigable for longer distances as a result of global warming. Even with nuclear powered icebreakers, the route was impassable until, in 2009, two German ships were the first to pass through the Northern Sea Route without the assistance of icebreakers. The number of passages increased considerably over the years that followed. It seems as if the Northern Sea Route is becoming a serious competitor to the traditional southern route via the Suez Canal. 

Northern Sea Route requires ice-strengthened ships

In June 2015, the Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev approved a plan to further develop the Northern Sea Route to enable the flow of freight to grow from 4 million to 80 million tonnes over the next 15 years. The new plan involves the development of navigation technology and the production of new maps, infrastructure and port facilities.

This route across the Chukchi Sea, Laptev Sea, Kara Sea and Barents Sea is expected to be accessible for eight months of the year in the near future. The advantages are considerable, with the northern route being a massive 5,000 nautical miles shorter than the southern route. Moreover, it is safer because the ships do not have to sail past the African coast, where they are regularly subjected to attack by pirates. 

At a time when many shipping companies are trying to operate their ships as profitable as possible, following the shorter, safer – and therefore cheaper – route is becoming a serious alternative trade route from Asia to Europe and vice versa. However, ice-strengthened ships are essential for this new route, as the route is still far from ice free. Existing ships are therefore often converted so that they can sail in these extreme winter conditions. 

Conversion contract

The increasing activity in these Arctic waters has also been noted by the Royal Niestern Sander shipyard. For example, Niestern Sander was recently approached to carry out a complicated conversion of two dry cargo ships. The ‘Arctica I’ and ‘Arctica II’, previously known by the names of ‘Maineborg’ and ‘Metsäborg’, were to be converted for use in extreme winter temperatures and conditions. Thanks to the shipyard’s extensive knowledge in the area of ice-strengthened ships – as was previously apparent from the series construction of ice-strengthened dry cargo ships for Wagenborg and the specialist icebreakers ‘Sanaborg’ and ‘Serkeborg’ – Niestern Sander was successful in winning this particular conversion project.


Experienced and versatile

Royal Niestern Sander is a modern and versatile shipyard in the north of the Netherlands. The shipyard is fully equipped for the design and construction of various types of vessel and has a track record in building various dry cargo ships, IMO 2 tankers, bulkers, container feeders and even anchor handling vessels, offshore-support vessels like ‘Kroonborg’, recently voted Ship of the Year.
However, in addition to building new ships, the shipyard has also acquired a reputation when it comes to ship conversions. Over the years, its repair department has completed many impressive projects, including the conversion of the inland waterway icebreaker ‘Armanborg’ to a shallow draft multipurpose ocean-going icebreaking supplier, a complete refit of a number of ferries and the retrofit of two RO-RO vessels to accommodate a scrubber installation. 


Arctica I is floating again after receiving her new ice classed bow. Also the crane foundations were installed
Arctica I is floating again after receiving her new ice classed bow. Also the crane foundations were installed

Delivery on schedule

The conversion of the ‘Arctica I’ and ‘Arctica II’ has been split into three phases. To make the ships suitable for Russian waters, Niestern Sander began with a design and engineering process. This process included creating a special Arctic bow in association with Conoship International, which had to replace the existing bulb section. The fitting of two special 60 ton deck cranes also involved mechanical and hydraulic engineering. 

The engineering process was actually implemented during the second phase of the project. In other words, the bow section was replaced and the crane foundations were installed. ‘Arctica I’ was the first to go into the dry dock at the port of Delfzijl for the work to be carried out. Parts of the existing hull on the starboard side were removed to make room for the reinforcement required for the crane foundations.

In addition, a slide system was made ready to swap the bow over and a frame to keep the top section of the bow in position. In the meantime, the new Arctic bow was constructed using steel delivered by IHC Metallix only six weeks after the contract was signed. The bow was exchanged with the assistance of Wagenborg. Wagenborg Nedlift used its skidding system to remove the old bow, after which the floating crane, Triton, from Wagenborg Towage lifted the new ice bow on to the slide system so that it could be skidded on to the ship in reverse order.

Both ‘Arctica I’ and ‘Arctica II’ were fitted with a new bow and the foundations for the deck cranes before the final phase of the conversion project could begin. This phase included the actual installation of the deck cranes. As the cranes were not yet on the market, Liebherr developed them specially during the time that Niestern Sander was installing the bow. The cranes were designed to remain usable in temperatures as low as -40°C. From a mechanical and hydraulic point of view, Niestern Sander had to carry out all kinds of modifications to both vessels, such as tank heating to avoid freezing of ballast water, in order to be able to install these cranes. 

Both ships have now fully undergone their conversion and deployed in the northern waters.

“Royal Niestern Sander has extensive experience regarding ship conversions. Below some reference projects.”

Conversion ‘Armanborg’

The major conversion of this inland waterway ice breaker into a shallow draft multipurpose ocean going ice breaking supplier comprised the major following items:

  • lengthening of the vessel with 15 metres including building and fitting of the new section
  • converting the vessel into a zero-dumpzone vessel 
  • exchange of the diesel generators 
  • refurbishment of the complete existing accommodation 
  • rearrangement of the tanks including coating
  • extend the electrical part of the diesel electric system
  • fabrication and installation of a cargo rail 
  • installation of a wooden work deck

Conversion ‘Rottum’

The passenger vessel m.v. Rottum has been completely rebuilt. Three new double bottom sections have been placed, all machinery and systems have been renewed, new deck equipment has been installed, a complete new bridge has been placed and the upper and lower saloon have been completely refitted. Various design features are included such as a vide, some art and large pictures to emphasize the beach atmosphere. With these jobs done the vessel now complies with the latest environmental, safety and technical demands. The yard has completed the refit in close co-operation with the owner and local suppliers within time and financial budget.

Conversion ‘harriet explorer’

This major conversion of a supplier into a 2D Seismic Survey Vessel comprised the following items:

  • building and installation of a new accommodation unit incl. new cabins and survey rooms
  • building and installation of a hangar for the seismic equipment
  • building and installation of 2 new accommodation blocks on each side of the existing accommodation 
  • installation of a complete new chiller system 
  • installation of 3 diesel driven aircompressors
  • rearrangement of the tanks incl. coating
  • adjustment of the aftship to accommodate a slipway 
  • installation of a helideck
  • installation of a deck- and store crane
  • installation of a FRC- and work boat including davits