Early ice forcing premature winter closure of Saimaa Canal
Fourth icebreaker set to embark to help vessel traffic in the Gulf of Finland and the Gulf of Bothnia
“How tough is it here?” asks master Janne Pesonen as he twists a handle on the bridge. The tugboat Iso-Pukki starts to push through the ice in the Saimaa Canal.
“It’s pretty thick”, answers first officer Mona Zilliacus.
The tugboat, which doubles as an icebreaker, shakes as it blazes a trail through the ice. At the other end of the canal, on the Russian side, there are two vessels waiting for help from Iso-Pukki to get into the Saimaa waterway.
Zilliacus takes the wheel and pushes the throttle for more power. Nevertheless, in the ice, which is nearly 30 centimetres thick, the vessel is moving forward at only about six knots - approximately 11 kilometres an hour.
“This could be a challenging journey for us”, Pesonen says.
The cold early winter has slowed shipping in both the Saimaa basin and at sea. Transport in the canal has been delayed, as wide vessels have become stuck in ice forming on the edges of the locks.
So much ice has accumulated in the canal that the route is expected to start its winter break a couple of weeks ahead of schedule.
“The first week of January, and after that, it’s over for this season”, says Chief Inspector Jukka Väisänen of the Finnish Transport Agency.
There is also an exceptionally large amount of ice in the Baltic Sea. Ilmari Aro, head of winter navigation at the Finnish Transport Agency, says that it looks like the winter will be a severe one.
At this time of the year, there is usually only one icebreaker in operation, but now already three are on duty there.
“If there is enough ice, and the wind is from the south, it will make the coast very difficult to navigate”, Aro says.
A fourth icebreaker is to be deployed soon. Voima will work in the Gulf of Finland.
Finland’s icebreakers are currently operated by the state-run company Arctia Shipping. The Finnish Transport Agency has agreed to hire five traditional icebreakers and two multi-purpose icebreakers.
In addition there is one other multi-purpose icebreaker that has been rented out for duties in the waters of Greenland, at least through February.
Aro believes that Finland might need its entire icebreaker fleet this winter.
The greatest nuisance caused by ice is usually the impact it has on schedules. The voyage of Iso-Pukki in the Saimaa Canal is delayed when one of the vessels that it is assisting gets stuck.
The tugboat pulls the first vessel to the Mustola Harbour in Lappeenranta, and returns to retrieve the one that is stuck.
The last few kilometres are in reverse, because there is no room for it to turn around.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Severe ice situation costs Finland dear (5.2.2010)
First icebreaker set sail earlier than usual (29.11.2010)
Zeus summoned to help break archipelago ice (9.2.2010)