Skip to content

Icebreaking season ends after 142 days

Published 21.5.2021 13.59

The icebreaking season, which extended from Christmas to mid-May, concluded when the last icebreaker in operation stopped breaking ice after assisting transport in the Bay of Bothnia. The past winter was mild at first, but became more severe in February. All of Finland's icebreakers except one were in operation this winter. 

Irtokeula Saimaa murtamassa.

“Preparations for winter shipping are made well in advance, but more detailed fore-casts of the severity of the winter are not possible until late January. The season that just ended showed how challenging it is to make precise forecasts. Therefore, Finland needs to have adequate ice-breaking capacity available to secure the flow of foreign trade even under severe winter conditions”, notes Head of Unit Jarkko Toivola.

The first icebreaker, JM Kontio, left Helsinki to start its winter work on 25 December, 2020 and the first assistance restrictions took effect in the Bay of Bothnia on 27 De-cember, 2020 as Kontio arrived at the scene. The last icebreaker operating was Polaris, which completed its last tasks on 15 May 2021.

“The winter developed at quite a moderate pace through the end of January. In mid-February it looked like there would be a longer cold spell and that several icebreakers would also be needed in the Gulf of Finland”, says Senior Maritime Officer Tuomas Taivi of the Finnish Transport Infrastructure Agency.

“The cold spell proved to be a short one. The development of the winter ended quickly with a milder phase in late February and Early March”, Taivi adds. 

However, the 2020-2021 season was an average winter in terms of the amount of ice coverage. The ice cover was at its most extensive on 15 February 2021 when it reached 127,000 km². 

In the past winter, the Finnish Transport Infrastructure Agency was using seven ice-breakers operated by Arctica and one Alfons Håkans icebreaker. The icebreaking assistance period was 142 days long in the Bay of Bothnia and 70 days in the Gulf of Finland.

The icebreakers operated in the sea areas covering more than 60,000 nautical miles, the equivalent circling the earth 2.5 times.

Motorised detachable bow deployed to help Saimaa icebreaking

Icebreaking in the Saimaa Waterway was done in two phases, involving three ice-breakers. The first phase in the Saimaa started on 10 December 2020 and concluded on 5 February 2021. The second phase began on 21 March 2021 and ended on 29 April 2021. In the interim there was a six-week maintenance period when the gates of the locks on the canal were undergoing maintenance. 

Icebreaking on the Saimaa Waterway got a significant boost when a motorised de-tachable icebreaking bow called Saimaa, which is owned by the Finnish Transport In-frastructure Agency, joined the effort. The Saimaa detachable bow was in operation for 100 days during the past season, with 62 assistance tasks, two of which involved towing. Ice tests were conducted on the detachable bow, and preliminary results suggest that it seems to have fulfilled the goals set for it. 

Read more about the ice tests for the detachable bow

Hundreds of workdays at sea and on the Saimaa deep water route

According to initial data, the icebreakers amassed a total of 630 workdays in the sea-son, assisting ships 1566 times, and towing ships 162 times. There were a total of 1243 assisted visits to harbours in sea areas.

In sea areas about 8,800 port calls were made in sea areas this past winter by ships in harbours with restrictions on assistance. The three vessels operating in the Saimaa area amassed 236 workdays, assisting 167 vessels, six of which were towed.

“The icebreaking season that just ended was exceptional in that there were hardly any powerful autumn or winter storms. The windy autumn period came early, and the traditional Christmas storms at sea did not happen. This may have slowed the cooling of the water. In the spring, meanwhile, a northerly air flow pushed a mass of ice to southern parts of the Bay of Bothnia”, Tuomas Taivi explains.

Further information 

Senior Maritime Officer Tuomas Taivi, tel. +358 295 34 3328 tai [email protected]

Read more about winter navigation and icebreaking


This is an old article. It may contain deprecated information and the links may not work.