A ‘TITANIC’ ICEBREAKER? Sea ice damage forces science ship dubbed ‘Norway’s new pride’ to abandon first Arctic expedition


There’s no good way to spin this: The Kronprins Haakon research ship, hailed as one of the world’s most advanced icebreakers, sustained enough damage from sea ice on its maiden Arctic expedition north of Svalbard to force the cancellation of the trip and put several major projects in jeopardy.


The Kronprins Haakon proves worthy of its state-of-the-art icebreaker claims during its first expedition to Antarctica in 2018. But a subsequent attempt to reach the North Pole this month was abandoned when thicker-than-expected ice damaged the ship. Photo courtesy of The Nansen Legacy.

The damage can safely be called embarrassing after the 100-meter-long vessel showed it could handle thicker ice than designed for during earlier trial voyages, including one north of Svalbard. It set out July 3 on its first “real” Arctic trip trying to surpass the 86 degrees latitude north reached by Nansen’s Fram expedition in 1985 – and possibly continue to the North Pole. But three weeks later the Kronprins Haakon “had to turn just before 85 degrees north,” the Norwegian Polar Institute announced in a statement about the expedition taking place under the guidance of The University of Tromsø, which owns the vessel.

“The Kronprins Haakon is returning to its workshop in Harstad for repairs to the damage. The next mission with the ship that was supposed to start July 25 is canceled. We hope that the damage is not too severe to repair so that we do not have to cancel more expeditions in the future.”

The vessel’s next scheduled voyage is Aug. 4.

NRK reported the ship’s engine failed and the propellers became clogged with ice. Per Nieuwejaar, department and shipping director at Norway’s Institute of Marine Research, told Sysla that report is inaccurate and the expedition was aborted because “during icebreaking, a leak occurred in a gasket in the port propeller housing,” which could have led to further complications.

“We have had no problems with either the engine or ice in the propellers, and the boat has never stopped in the ice,” he said. “The reason we chose to return before reaching 86 degrees was entirely about the boat hitting ice barriers of two to four meters through which it had to break. This takes a lot of time and is not very effective when the purpose is to research, so there was no point in continuing this time.”

The 36 researchers and technicians were able to collect most of the samples they were seeking during the voyage, according to the university.

The 1.4-billion-kroner, double-hulled vessel was built specifically for Arctic and Antarctica research expeditions. It has steel plates up to 40 millimeters thick and is designed to pass through ice up to one meter thick at a steady speed of 3.5 knots. It also features room for 55  researchers in addition to crew, 15 laboratories, sonar that can provide information on details on the seabed, a helicopter deck, a “moonpool” at the bottom to put equipment into the water even if the ship is frozen in sea ice and a remote controlled submarine able to reach a depth of 6,000 meters.

The ship’s construction in Italy took several years, arriving in Norway a year later than scheduled, but performed well during several test voyages and during an expedition to Antarctica late last year.

Officials are now trying to determine the cause of the leak and the extent of damage.

“It is a pity that the polar ship Kronprins Haakon has canceled its voyage, but it is now important to clarify the situation and what has happened,” Sveinung Rotevatn, secretary of state for Norway’s Ministry of Climate and Environment, told Khrono. “The ministry is monitoring the situation, and is confident that the Norwegian Polar Institute and the Institute of Marine Research make the assessments they deem necessary.”