Posted February 27, 2020
The German Government has cancelled a five year old tender invitation for the research icebreaker 'Polarstern II' and promised a new award procedure leading to a more modern ship, writes Tom Todd.
The Berlin Research Ministry BMBF said the cancellation of the still outstanding 2015 tender invitation was “for legal reasons”. No contract has yet been awarded and the authorities believe the original invitation no longer covers current technological demands for a long-term, efficient and economic newbuild.
The Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI), which operates the existing 38 year old Polarstern and will also operate a replacement, said its mandate could “only be fulfilled long-term with a modern icebreaker”.
It said it would work with the BMBF to find a solution and create a new award process for Polarstern II “as soon as possible”. It said it wanted to develop an icebreaker that is “as future-proof, powerful and sustainable as possible”.
AWI Director Prof. Antje Boetius said: “The demands on a modern research icebreaker have changed significantly” in the years since planning started for Polarstern II. She mentioned the increasing use of more powerful underwater robots and said “technical solutions that were hardly conceivable ten years ago” now needed to be considered.
She also said experience from the current AWI-led international Polarstern MOSAiC expedition should be incorporated into the new planning. The ship with participants from 20 countries is locked in Arctic pack ice for a year of scientific research.
Prof. Boetius said until a replacement had been ordered and built “we have to take good care” of the old 117.91m x 25.07m diesel-electric Polarstern “so that we can use it to find answers to pressing questions”.
When the 2015 tender invitation for Polarstern II was issued, the BMBF said the plan was to complete that ship in 2019 and hand it over to the scientists in 2020. Since then the cost of maintenance, repair and technical upgrades on the old Polarstern have mounted and now total a reported €10 million a year. Lloyd Werft Bremerhaven has carried out most of that work for many years and it now looks as though it will need to continue to do so for several more years until a successor enters service.