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The icebreaking season 2021–2022 was exceptionally long

Published 22.6.2022 14.01

The past icebreaking season started as early as at the beginning of December 2021, when Otso was the first icebreaker to sail off to the Bay of Bothnia on 3 December 2021 and the last one to return to Katajanokka on 30 May 2022. Therefore, the icebreaking season lasted a total of 179 days. In the Gulf of Finland, the icebreaking season lasted until 11 April. In the Sea of Bothnia, the season ended on 20 April.

The past icebreaking season was a long one, and also very windy, especially in January-February. At that time, fields of packed ice kept drifting back and forth in the northern Bay of Bothnia for the rest of the winter. As an illustrative example of just how challenging the ice conditions were, it can be mentioned that the actual Oulu fairway could not be used between 2 March and 26 March due to very difficult ice conditions, and traffic to Oulu had to be assisted by a longer route through the Kemi fairway.


“The winter developed quite rapidly as of the end of November. At that point, the ice field grew faster than average,” says Tuomas Taivi, Senior Maritime Officer at the Finnish Transport Infrastructure Agency. The maximum extent of ice cover in the sea area, reached at the beginning of February, was approximately 93,000 km2.

“In the end, the cold period was short. The development of winter kind of stalled in mid-January, when we had a relatively long period of hard winds which kept the ice masses packed together. The cooler spring than average, on the other hand, prolonged the end of the icy season, especially in the Bay of Bothnia,” says Taivi. 

In recent years, icebreaking in the Bay of Bothnia has often started around Christmas with one icebreaker, with the next ones starting their work no earlier than in January. This winter, another icebreaker was needed in the Bay of Bothnia as of 9 December.
During the season, a total of 2,271 assists were made in the sea area, of which 224 involved towing. During the icebreaking season 2020–2021, assistance was given 1,655 times. 
The icebreakers sailed a total of 79,421 nautical miles, approximately 147,100 km, i.e., more than 3.5 times around the globe. The assistance given to merchant vessels amounted to a total of 43,666 nautical miles, or nearly 81,000 km. 
The first assistance restrictions entered into force in the Bay of Bothnia on 4 December 2021 and ended on 31 May 2022. For Lake Saimaa, the assistance restrictions were set at the same time, on 4 December 2021, and they ended on 8 May 2022.

The assistance restrictions determine which vessels are entitled to icebreaking assistance in Finnish ports. The assistance restrictions are linked to the vessel's ice class and size and the prevailing ice conditions. 

In total, the icebreakers were in operation for 924 days, which is clearly more than in winter 2021-2022, when they operated for 630 days. Eight icebreakers were at work at the same time. The Finnish Transport Infrastructure Agency was using seven icebreakers operated by Arctica and one by Alfons Håkans. The icebreaking season was the longest for the icebreaker Otso, which was at sea for 179 days. 
Lake Saimaa had a short icebreaking season

In lake Saimaa, the icebreaking season began as early as at the end of November, when assistive icebreaking services were needed in the Saimaa Canal and in the ports in the upper parts of Saimaa. The actual icebreaking operations on Saimaa began on 2 December 2021 and ended on 31 January 2022, which means that the total length of the season was 61 days. The traffic season in the Saimaa Canal ended on 31 January 2022 and it was opened for traffic on 28 March 2022 as required by the canal's lease agreement. 
In early winter, three icebreakers operated in Saimaa: Saimaa/Calypso, Protector and Meteor. In total, the icebreakers operated in Saimaa for 167 days.
There was a total of 170 assists in Saimaa, and towing was needed 18 times.
The amount of assistance given to merchant vessels in lake Saimaa amounted to a total of approximately 9,000 nautical miles. In all, the icebreakers sailed around 12,000 nautical miles, or 22,200 km, during the season.

In spring, icebreaking was carried out internally in the Saimaa area between 19 April and 8 May 2022 with the pusher tug Tyrsky for a total of 20 days
The Finnish Transport Infrastructure Agency is responsible for the public office duties and procurement associated with winter navigation as well as for the national coordination, development and control operations.

Further information:
Tuomas Taivi, Senior Maritime Officer, tel. +358 29 5343328, [email protected]


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