China to build icebreaker with submersible to reach Arctic seabed

So far, only Russia has managed to send submersibles to the Arctic sea floor.
Ameya Paleja
Representational image of an icebreaker ship.
Representational image of an icebreaker ship.


China has begun construction of its third icebreaker in a bid to send researchers to polar seabeds as early as 2025, the South China Morning Post reported. The country's current ice breakers Xuelong 1 and Xuelong 2 are mainly tasked with supply replenishment missions at the North and the South Pole.

The term "icebreaker" commonly refers to large vessels that possess a reinforced hull and a heavily strengthened bow, utilizing their substantial weight to break through ice formations. In regions frequently affected by sea ice during colder seasons, these ships play a critical role.

Russia by its geographical proximity to icy waters has built a large number of icebreakers to clear out maritime trade routes. China's vessels do not currently rank among the most remarkable icebreakers witnessed worldwide thus far. However, with its recent icebreaker, China is hoping to leapfrog the ones built by the US and other nations.

China's third icebreaker

According to SCMP's report, the construction of the third icebreaker is being funded by several organizations such as the Institute of Deep-Sea Science and Engineering as well as the provincial government of Hainan.

The proposed length of the vessel is 338 feet (103 meters) and is being built for a displacement of over 10,000 tons (9,200 tonnes). It can accommodate a crew of 80 people and travel at speeds of up to 16 knots, putting it on par with some of the advanced icebreakers out there.

China also plans to equip the icebreaker with deepsea submersibles that can carry out crewed missions in the Arctic seabed. So far, only Russian Mir 1 and Mir 2 submersibles have achieved this feat. China's plans are ambitious since it wants the icebreaker to be ready by 2025.

China to build icebreaker with submersible to reach Arctic seabed
Stock image of a icebreaker in the polar region

Polar Silk Road and beyond

China's plans for the third icebreaker date as early as 2018, when it envisioned the construction as part of the Polar Silk Road trade route under its Belt and Road Initiative.

Considering itself as an Arctic power, China aims to expand its presence in the region, given the limitations on US mobility caused by inadequate icebreaker capabilities.

The melting ice in the Arctic region is increasingly perceived as a potential avenue for exploring additional maritime trade routes and accessing oil reserves, engaging in fishing activities, and mining minerals. Icebreakers play a key role in facilitating such endeavors.

China anticipates that its new icebreaker will be deployed at the polar regions for approximately four months each year, supporting scientific research activities in the South China Sea. Previous submersible missions to shipwrecks in the region have yielded cultural relics dating back over 500 years.

The country is keen on gathering environmental data concerning deep-sea environments and conducting geology and life sciences experiments within these extreme settings.

The vessel will also enable China's naval ships to navigate without restrictions and bolster its presence in the polar regions.

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