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Home - Thursday 18.12.2003

Icebreaker Botnica unexpectedly classified among ships unfit for service in ice conditions

 Bureaucratic snags rather than technical shortcomings keep ship away from winter duty

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The multi-function icebreaker Botnica run by the Finnish Maritime Administration (FMA) has seen its official ice classification unexpectedly downgraded to class III.
   
This means that the icebreaker will not be allowed to assist traffic in the ice-bound Port of Kemi. The ice at the far northern end of the Gulf of Bothnia is so thick that icebreakers are only helping ships weighing more than 2,000 tonnes in ice classes I or II.
   
Class III is given to ships that are not reinforced against ice, or which are otherwise unsuitable for sailing in winter conditions.

The reason for the downgrading of the ice classification of the Botnica did not involve any technical or structural problem. The ship's papers were simply not in order.
   
Previously, state-owned icebreakers have not needed an ice classification certificate, and when the inspector arrived, the ship's papers differed from the vessel's true dimensions. Some information was also missing.
   
Because of the shortcomings the inspector had no choice but to downgrade the ship's ice classification. The same happens to merchant vessels caught falsifying their ice classifications or cheating on fairway charges.
   
Local FMA officials acknowledged that the result was unexpected, but that no exceptions could be made.

Håkan Gustafsson of the FMA shipping line unit says that the Botnica is part of a class of icebreakers that is not officially recognised by the regular Finnish ice classification system. However, the ship far exceeds the specifications of the most stringent Finnish ice class known as IA Super.
   
The basic problem lies in the dual role of Finland's multi-purpose icebreakers: in the summer they operate at oil fields in the North Sea, occasionally transporting goods. Consequently the ships have two different draughts - one for ice conditions, and one for the oil fields.
   
Under the regulations, the ice reinforcement on the hull must extend to a certain level above the highest possible water level. According to initial reports, the Botnica exceeds the norm by six or seven centimetres. This is quite sufficient for the IA Super ice classification.

At the beginning of next year Finland's icebreakers will be taken over by a state enterprise for icebreaking services, which will hire them out to the FMA.
   
The problems with the Botnica are a new turn of events in ten years of confusion over ice classification and fairway fees.
   
Ships pay the dues for the privilege of using certain shipping routes, and for icebreaker help. A ship's ice classification is the main factor which determines the amount it has to pay in fairway fees: the higher the class, the lower the fee.
   
Small Finnish shipping companies complained to the FMA in 1994 that Dutch competitors were unfairly avoiding paying the fee, which is the FMA's main source of revenue.
   
An attempt was made to pass a law which would have made it more difficult to cheat on fairway fees, but the bill was buried in the Ministry of Transport and Communications for three years.
   
Also, a language error was found in the rules: the height stipulated for the ice reinforcement in the English and Swedish versions differs from that in the Finnish version.

Previously in HS International Edition:
 Foreign vessels avoiding Finnish fairway dues (10.1.2000)
 Potentially hazardous oil tanker sails ice-bound Gulf of Finland to Primorsk (28.1.2003)
 Ice in Gulf of Finland hazard for weaker oil tankers (16.1.2003)
 Safety fears for single-hulled oil tankers on Gulf of Finland (28.11.2002)

Links:
 Finnish Maritime Administration


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