Baltika, the world’s first oblique icebreaker designed to break ice sideways, left Murmansk on 20 March 2015 and headed to the Russian Arctic. The purpose of the three-week voyage to Kara Sea and the Gulf of Ob was to evaluate the vessel’s icebreaking performance and operational capability through extensive full-scale trials in challenging Arctic ice conditions. In the ice-free Barents Sea, the seakeeping characteristics of the asymmetric icebreaker hull were also evaluated in moderate seas.
Performance trials were carried out in three different ice thicknesses, ranging from 40 cm thick saline sea ice in the Kara Sea to up to 1.22 m thick hard low-saline ice outside the Sabetta LNG terminal in the Gulf of Ob. During these trials, Baltika exceeded her design icebreaking capability of 3 knots in 1 m thick ice in both ahead and astern directions. In addition, the oblique icebreaking mode was demonstrated for the first time, and the vessel performed beyond expectations.
While the main goal of the trial voyage was to confirm Baltika’s icebreaking capability, both the vessel’s crew and the designers gained considerable operational experience during the daily operations in the challenging ice conditions. After the best way to tackle obstacles such as ridged ice fields was discovered, Baltika was found out to be equivalent - sometimes even superior - to conventional icebreakers despite her lower propulsion power.
There have always been those who have doubted the feasibility of the oblique icebreaker concept. The extensive full-scale ice trials in the Russian Arctic have shown that Baltika, the first icebreaker with an asymmetric hull, could not only break ice sideways, but also sometimes out-perform conventional icebreakers in other operational situations as well. The concept is thus seen to hold potential for a number of missions such as escort and port icebreaking and in offshore projects.