A key question is: what is the optimal ice-breaking on the Baltic Sea motorway? Intermittently in the Baltic Sea due to insufficient icebreaker resources, traffic restrictions have to be imposed when ice conditions become too difficult. Each of the coastal states; Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Russia manages the icebreaker assistance themselves for merchant vessels navigating to and from the port of each state. As to the optimal and reasonable sizing of the resource of the icebreakers it is wise to consider the need for ice-breaking assistance in the Gulf of Finland as an entirety.
The project aimed to promote:
- Developing winter navigation on the motorway of the Baltic Sea as a part of the TEN-network;
- Safety by taking account of environment and accident risks related to winter navigation;
- European competitiveness by improving, developing and ensuring connections to growing markets of Russia (Pan- European Corridor 9A);
- Participation of the candidate countries, Estonia and Latvia, in traffic and research co-operation.
VTT (the Technical Research Centre of Finland) together with Kvaerner Masa-Yards, developed a strategic simulation tool for describing the need for ice-breaking assistance. By means of the tool the comparison data of indicators was obtained. The indicators described the need for assistance and the level of service in different circumstances.
At the end of the project a high level seminar was arranged. A key mission of the seminar was to consider alternative potentialities of the co-operation on the basis of the comparison data being derived from the first phase of the project.
The tool simulated, sea transports to/from ports of Finland, Sweden, Estonia and Russia in the conditions of different ice winters, restrictions and traffic volumes. The ice winters were classified as light and hard.
Alternative reviews were carried out by varying the number of icebreakers. The simulation period covered the entire ice winter, from the beginning of November to the end of May.
Simulations included icebreaker operations carried out separately by the national ice-breaking fleets or operating all icebreakers with international co-operation. From the simulations the average waiting time for the cargo vessels were calculated. A maximum of four hours average waiting time was considered as sufficient service level for merchant vessels.
Ships ice-breaking capabilities have significant effect on the ice-breaking need. For evaluating the scenario where merchant ships ice-breaking capabilities are improved the traffic was restricted to two options in hard winter conditions.
Simulation results revealed that resources of icebreakers can be utilised more effective if ice-breaking operations could be managed co-operatively. In Gulf of Finland in conditions of hard ice winter there is a possibility to achieve the same level of service by 1-2 icebreakers less than in a situation where every country Finland, Russia and Estonia separately manages ice-breaking operations. This must be a very attractive signal towards closer co-operation in ice-breaking issues in the Baltic Sea area.