Icebreaking bulker for Canadian Arctic mine

Fednav’s newbuild icebreaking bulker will be similar to the powerful, four year-old 'Nunavik' Fednav’s newbuild icebreaking bulker will be similar to the powerful, four year-old 'Nunavik'

Montreal-based Fednav has ordered a new icebreaking bulk carrier in Japan to sustain the year-round transportation requirements of Glencore’s Raglan nickel mine in northern Quebec, writes David Tinsley.

The 31,000dwt vessel has been contracted through trading house Sumitomo Corporation and will be built by Japan Marine United Corporation (JMU) at the Yokohama shipyard. The template for the project will be provided by Fednav’s 31,750dwt Nunavik, claimed to be the world’s most powerful icebreaking bulker when commissioned in 2014 from JMU’s Tsu yard. Nunavik is in turn similar in design to the company’s 32,000dwt Umiak 1, delivered in 2006 by JMU predecessor Universal Shipbuilding. Both existing vessels support northern mining operations.

The newbuild will be of Polar Class 4 standard and, as with Umiak 1 and Nunavik, will offer a broader cargo carrying capability than that of a pure bulker. While ensuring a southbound flow of high quality nickel concentrates, she will also be used to transport a variety of supplies to the mining complex on northbound voyages, including equipment, machinery and dry and liquid consumables.

The project is the outcome of a 20-year partnership agreement with Glencore embracing the construction and operation of a newbuild to supersede the 28,400dwt Arctic, which has serviced the Raglan shipping contract for decades.

Fednav’s pioneering, icebreaking multipurpose bulker Arctic was brought into service during 1978 from the Port Weller yard in Ontario. Over the past 40 years, she has played a vital logistic role for the Canadian base metals extractive industry in the far north. Arctic has recently undergone mandatory 40th year drydocking at Les Mechins, Quebec, for inspection, repair and maintenance to enable another two years of service until the replacement vessel is commissioned in October 2020.

The Deception Bay port facilities serving the Raglan mining activities are located at the eastern end of the Hudson Strait, near Salluit, on the vast Ungava Peninsula in Northern Quebec’s Nunavik territory. Year-round navigation means contending with rugged Arctic conditions, including hard-packed sheer ice and icebergs.

Details of the latest shipbuilding order are subject at this stage to commercial confidentiality clauses, but the criteria that defined the specification for the Nunavik are equally relevant for the latest project. Nunavik was built to the PC-4 and ICE-15 class notations of DNV GL. She is capable of maintaining continuous progress at three knots in 1.5m-thick ice, and can transit through deep ice ridges. Self-sufficiency in cargo handling is a prerequisite of the trade, and is expressed in an outfit of three deck cranes, two of 30t capacity and one of 50t, plumbing five holds.

As an indicator of primary power requirements in the forthcoming fleet addition, Nunavik is installed with a seven-cylinder MAN S70ME-C engine rated at about 22,000kW running at only 91rpm, and coupled in direct drive to a Rolls-Royce Kamewa controllable pitch propeller. The high-strength, nickel-aluminium-bronze propeller is mounted within a steel nozzle, to give protection against floating blocks of ice while increasing thrust for ice-forcing.

The newbuild will fly the Canadian flag and will be husbanded by longstanding contractor Anglo-Eastern Ship Management of Hong Kong. Classification has again been entrusted to DNV GL.

Ore extracted from the four mining sites at Raglan is crushed and processed on-site to produce a nickel-copper concentrate. Approximately 1.3m tonnes of ore is treated annually at the concentrator. The concentrate is transferred by truck 100km to the Deception Bay terminal, for buffer storage in a domed warehouse and subsequent transportation by the Arctic down the Labrador coast and up the St Lawrence to Quebec City.

The material is then conveyed by train over a distance of 950km to Glencore’s smelter at Sudbury, northern Ontario, where it is melted and cast into the substance known as nickel matte. The matte is sent back by rail to Quebec City for shipment to Glencore’s refinery at Kristiansand, Norway, where the unwrought mineral is turned into pure metal and sold worldwide.

Constituting the Phase 1 development, Raglan’s current operations began in 1997 and are expected to gradually cease from 2020 onwards. So as to ensure continuity to 2040 and beyond, Glencore has launched the Sivumut Project, representing Phases II and III. These will exploit new mining sites on the Raglan property while using the existing ore processing plant, the Deception Bay port storage and deepwater terminal, roadways and other key infrastructure.

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