Wagenborg pioneered in opening up extremely remote and challenging regions such as the North Caspian. When the Shell consortium started work on the first phase of the Kashagan oil field, which turned out to be the largest finding in 30 years, Wagenborg was asked to take part in a tender which it subsequently won. We knew that there was a substantial challenge ahead. The North Caspian is an extremely environmentally sensitive area, with temperature extremes ranging from minus 40 degrees Celsius to plus 40. And coupled with that, it is an area with a very shallow draught ranging from only 1.5 m to 5 m. Typical for the whole of the Kashagan field is the moving of the ice of 60-70 cm and this is almost fresh water ice (with little salt content), which makes the ice very strong. Given the wind and currents in winter, there are significant forces on the vessel’s hull and propulsion equipment.
However, Wagenborg did not shy away from the challenge. We knew we had extensive experience and the right knowledge in-house. We had been shipping for more than a century in ice-infested waters. Subsidiaries Nedlift and Foxdrill had been providing supporting services to the onshore and offshore oil and gas industries. And besides we had been providing ferry services in the Wadden Sea (Dutch Shallows), known for its shallow waters and environmental sensitivity, for over 100 years. We had the knowledge; we just had to combine it to take on this challenge. This led to the decision to build two dedicated ice breaking supply vessels, specifically designed for shallow waters, at Kvaerner Masa Yards in Helsinki in 1998. Wagenborg – which designs nearly all of its vessels itself – knew that conventional icebreaking techniques combining the weight and power of a vessel would not work, because these would not get the vessel over an ice ridge. A different approach was needed to penetrate these grounded ridges.
Therefore a special shallow draught hull design, combined with an Azipod thruster emerged. This had the capability to break ice of 1m, unusually travelling stern first, effectively “eating the ice away”. These two vessels – the ‘Antarcticaborg’ and ‘Arcticaborg’ – also embodied a zero dumping philosophy.
Two new build icebreakers
A unique supply method to this remote area was also needed, leading to a convoy using icebreakers or ice classed vessels and barges, the so-called Wagenborg “Ice train”, which deploys a dedicated barge connected to an icebreaker, but unusually, travelling stern first. Using this method up to 4,500 tonnes of cargo can be transported by deploying an icebreaker and two barges. For more than a decade already, Wagenborg has a substantial presence in Kazakhstan with 28 units operating there, including tugs, barges and offshore accommodation units for 2,000 people and it can boast an impressive 45,000 hours operating in shallow, ice infested waters. In November 2012, Wagenborg’s two latest eagerly anticipated ice breaking support vessels were delivered from Royal Niestern Sander Shipyard (also part of the group).
Working closely together to get the optimum result
These two new builds – ‘Sanaborg’ and ‘Serkeborg’ - are ideally suited to the conditions of Kazakhstan, the Pechora Sea and Yamal Peninsula, Russia or the Canadian waters. It has taken two years to move from design to completion of the vessels. ‘Sanaborg’ and ‘Serkeborg’ are more efficient than the existing vessels because of the new propulsion and hull form. They also have a decreased draught and beam and increased length. The two have unique ice class thrusters developed together with Wärtsilä. The new Icepod® is suitable for ice milling: “washing and breaking the ice”. Royal Wagenborg is optimistic about the many possibilities in the North Caspian, Russia and Canadian Arctic, but also thinks that it is an extremely difficult and challenging, environmentally sensitive area - often more difficult than the industry thinks. It is essential to take a long-term view. We need to work with model testing for open sea conditions and in ice, it is vital to work closely together; the yards, owners, their clients (the oil majors) and research institutes to get the optimum result.