Which tourism operators can offer an icebreaker cruise to Antarctica? This is a question I often hear from people interested in travelling to Antarctica, and it’s an interesting question for me as the questioner usually assumes that an icebreaker is the best and safest ship to travel to Antarctica. Icebreakers are certainly hearty ships, but maybe a better question is – What is an icebreaker, and should I travel on one to Antarctica?
An icebreaker is a ship that has a couple of essential qualities. It needs to have a reinforced hull for work in ice, but this doesn’t define an icebreaker as all sensible ships operating in the polar regions have reinforced hulls. An icebreaker must also have the ability to push through ice, preferably multi-year ice. To push through the ice, it needs to be designed to break the ice without affecting the ship’s stability in the water. Powerful icebreakers often have a flat bottom hull, allowing the vessel to essentially ram thick ice, raising its hull above the ice and crushing it.
And it’s these flat bottom hulls that often mean that icebreakers are not the best ships to take to Antarctica as a cruise ship. The lack of keel means that the vessel is less stable in the open sea, and although that doesn’t mean the ship is necessarily more likely to sink, it does provide a less pleasant sailing experience from the perspective of someone travelling on board.
So unless you’re wanting to crunch through miles of thick ice (which you normally wouldn’t want to on an Antarctica cruise as it takes a lot of time) then an icebreaker probably isn’t the sort of thing you want to travel on. What you probably do want however is an ice strengthened ship which has reasonable stabilisers to make your cruise as safe and comfortable as possible. But how do you tell if a ship is suitably strengthened? Well the short answer is that they all are essentially – otherwise they wouldn’t be allowed to travel there in the first place by IAATO – the organisation that oversees tourism in the Antarctic.
But some ships are better than others for sure. The other thing that makes it hard to compare is that there a range of different ice classifications for ships. There are Russian, Finnish, American and a more recent International classification. Within the tourism industry the Finnish system seems to be used most and most Antarctica Tourism ships fit into their 1A, 1B or 1C categories, A being the strongest and C being the lowest.
Look out for any reference for these three ratings when comparing ships as this is your best way to gauge the relative capabilities of one Antarctica ship compared to another.
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