China builds first polar research ship

Chinese shipbuilding will have a new technological reference point with the polar icebreaker Xue Long 2 Chinese shipbuilding will have a new technological reference point with the polar icebreaker Xue Long 2

China is set to bolster its presence in the Antarctic research community using a sophisticated polar support vessel laid down at Jiangnan Shipyard in Shanghai and embodying Finnish design and engineering technology. David Tinsley reports.

To be named Xue Long 2, translated as Snow Dragon 2, the 122-metre newbuild ordered by the country’s Polar Research Institute is the first such vessel conceived for operation in the polar regions to be constructed in China. On scheduled delivery during 2019, she will complement the existing Xue Long, completed 25 years ago by the Ukraine’s Kherson Shipyard.

The design, developed and model tested by Aker Arctic at its Helsinki ice laboratory, has been tailored to meet the client’s scientific missions and provide logistic support in both the Arctic and Antarctic, although the latter is expected to provide the main focus for the ship’s operations. China has four permanent research stations on Antarctica, and is understood to be planning further facilities.

The diesel-electric, PC3 ice-classed newbuild will provide the capability to transport cargo, equipment and scientific personnel to and from the polar regions, as well as perform advanced research onboard using wet and dry laboratories, special (‘scientific’) winches and a moonpool.

For supply duties, the vessel will be installed with a heavy crane forward to serve a cargo hold stowing both dry and tank containers, while the aft deck will mount an A-frame for subsea sampling work. Accommodation will be arranged for up to 90 scientists and crew, while the aft area, behind the midships superstructure, will carry a helicopter landing platform and hangar.

The scientific outfit will embrace equipment and instrumentation for marine geological, geophysical, biological and ecological research in addition to climate change monitoring and hydrographic and seismic surveys. A box keel under the ship is intended to achieve a minimal disturbance of the water flow while fulfilling scientific tasks using bottom-mounted instruments, and minimising ice contact.

Xue Long 2 will be able to continuously break level ice of 1.5m thickness with a 20cm snow covering, while sailing either ahead or astern at a speed of two or three knots, using two ABB Azipod VI units delivering a combined power of 15MW. Given the long ocean transits between China and Antarctica, the design has been developed to offer good open-water characteristics as well as the requisite icebreaking performance.

The diesel-electric power and propulsion installation is based on four gensets driven by Wärtsilä 32-series, vee-form medium-speed engines, comprising two 16-cylinder and two 12-cylinder models. The vessel will be capable of maintaining an economic transit speed of 12 knots in open water using just one of the main diesel gensets, and 15 knots with two on-line. In the most difficult ice conditions, all four engines can be used. The aft ship underbody features two skegs, so as to protect the propulsors from multi-year ice and enhance course stability.

The pair of 7.5MW azimuthing Azipods, conferring high levels of manoeuvrability, will be supplemented by two bow thrusters, and a DP2 standard of dynamic positioning has been nominated to meet station-keeping requirements in Southern Ocean conditions.

Reduction of both underwater radiated noise as well as attenuation of onboard noise and vibration has commanded particular design attention. Various measures adopted have included double resilient mounting for the main engines and location of the diesel gensets one deck higher than usual.


Length overall


Length, design waterline




Depth, to main deck


Draught, maximum


Draught, design




Propulsion motors

2 x 7.5MW

Main gensets

2 x W16V32 + 2 x W12V32

Speed, transit(2 gensets)


Complement, scientists + crew






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