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|You arrived here at 17:00 Helsinki time Tuesday 2.9.2014|
Captain Aleksandr Skrjabin of the Russian nuclear-powered icebreaker Vaygach is busy. He is working hard around the clock, breaking ice in the Gulf of Finland and shepherding vesselsl towards port or open water.
”Last night we assisted two tankers into the Port of Primorsk. Now we have received an order to assist two large, 100,000-ton oil tankers”, Skrjabin reported on the phone on Sunday.
The tankers were tailing the Vaygach, when the icebreaker opened the fairway from the island of Gogland to Primorsk.
The entire Gulf of Finland is currently covered by solid ice.
The ice situation worsened further on Sunday, and in the morning as many as 94 vessels were waiting for assistance.
A total of 63 ships were stuck in the ice on Saturday.
The ice cover was too much for the 11 diesel-powered Russian icebreakers waiting at the country’s Baltic harbours, which led to a historic decision. The nuclear-powered icebreaker Vaygach sailed from Murmansk to assist the trapped ships on Monday.
This is the first time in recent memory that a nuclear-powered icebreaker has been sent to work in the busy Gulf of Finland, which is now a vital causeway for Russian oil exports.
Born and educated in the former Leningrad, Captain Skrjabin started his career in the Russian battle fleet, but after becoming a civilian he has been the master of the Vaygach for the past six years.
The nuclear icebreaker spends a large part of her time assisting the passenger ferry Princess Maria that operates between Helsinki and St. Petersburg.
The ferry cannot cope with the trip alone, which is why the icebreaker has to assist it in Russian waters.
”This is the most interesting assignment that the Vaygach has ever had. That the Vaygach is escorting the Princess Maria”, said Skrjabin drily.
”We fulfill all commands we receive”, he continued.
At the weekend, gale-force winds, heavy snow, and the fluctuating temperatures hampered the passage of ships.
The Vaygach clears waterways with strong compressed air, blown through the holes on the sides of the vessel.
Over a week, the icebreaker has managed to get some 30 vessels detached from the ice.
Juha Jokiniemi from the Finnish Coast Guard says that the ice is not likely to increase the risk of an accident.
”That is no essential danger there”, Jokiniemi commented on Sunday.
According to Jokiniemi, the Vaygach has stayed in Russian waters.
The nuclear-powered icebreaker Vaygach was built in the Wärtsilä dockyard in Helsinki at the end of the 1980s. A nuclear reactor was installed in the vessel in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg).
At present, the Russian nuclear icebreaker fleet includes five functioning icebreakers, while two more are in reserve.
The Vaygach, officially designated as a shallow-draft river icebreaker of the Taymyr class, has a crew of 91, who can be at sea for as many as seven months without a break.
”As the vessel left Murmansk only one and a half weeks ago, the crew still have fresh fruit and vegetables to eat”, said Andrei Smirnov, the deputy general director of icebreaker deployment at Rosatomflot in Murmansk.
The Vaygach has enough fuel - namely uranium - for five years. It is possible to make drinking water by purifying sea water.
There is also enough entertainment onboard. There is a sauna, a swimming pool, a gym, a sports hall, a library, and a recreation area aboard the 50,000 hp vessel.
”For example for playing chess and watching movies”, Smirnov noted.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Russian nuclear icebreaker races to help in Gulf of Finland (22.2.2011)
Severe ice situation costs Finland dear (5.2.2010)
More than 60 vessels stuck in ice in Gulf of Finland (17.2.2011)
Finnish maritime pilots demand eastern shipping route should be kept open in winter (2.2.2010)
Northern industries can cope with Gulf of Bothnia´s pack ice situation for about a week (4.3.2011)
Icebreakers busy assisting ships struggling in winter ice (3.3.2011)
Finnish Ice Report 7.3.2011 (Baltic Sea Ice Service)
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