VESSEL REVIEW | Xue Long 2 – Highly versatile 122-metre newbuild for China’s polar research missions

Photo: Pless

Jiangnan Shipyard delivered Xue Long 2 (“Snow Dragon 2”), the first polar icebreaker to be built domestically in China, to the Polar Research Institute of China (PRIC) in July 2019 following a 10-year development programme that also included a construction period of two years. Designed by Finnish naval architecture firm Aker Arctic in cooperation with the 708 Research Institute subsidiary of China State Shipbuilding Corporation (CSSC), the all-steel newbuild was developed in response to a request by the Chinese government for a locally built polar research ship that would be every bit as capable as similar vessels that are being operated by other countries.

Xue Long 2 has an LOA of 122.5 metres, a beam of 22.3 metres, a depth of 11.8 metres, a displacement of 13,000 tonnes, a total cargo capacity of 4,500 tonnes, and four diesel-powered main engines. The vessel’s hull was designed in such a way that the stern could break through up to 1.5 metres-thick surface ice just as effectively as the bow. This “two-way” icebreaking capability means there would be no more need for the vessel to rely solely on its bow just to be able to clear a path for itself through the ice.

Xue Long 2 is intended to carry out a wide array of research missions as well as geological and biological surveys in both Arctic and Antarctic regions. The vessel was thus built for voyages of up to 20,000 nautical miles in between refuelings, allowing it to reach remote polar areas even with limited resupply stops along the way. To accomplish this, it was designed to be able to sail over long distances at a cruising speed of 12 knots even on only one engine. Two engines will be utilised for sailing at a higher service speed of 15 knots while all four engines will be employed to supply maximum power during icebreaking operations. Even with the vessel’s significant propulsive power, it is nonetheless capable of generating low levels of vibrations and underwater noise in compliance to the Comfort Class 2 rule of both the China Classification Society and Lloyd’s Register.

Despite its massive size, the vessel has a remarkably shallow draught of only 7.85 metres. The shallow draught coupled with the ability to break ice up to 1.5 metres thick while sailing at a speed of three knots means it could more easily and more safely reach China’s Zhongshan Research Station in Antarctica. The PRIC claims the station is in an area of the continent known for hazardous sea ice conditions especially during the period from late November to early December, and this has posed problems for the institute’s only other polar icebreaker, the converted cargo vessel Xue Long which was acquired from Ukraine in 1993.

There is space for up to 90 people including vessel crew and scientific personnel. The interior is adequately heated and insulated to ensure a more comfortable environment for everyone and everything on board. All of the vessel’s facilities and equipment were designed to be able to continue operating even when outside air temperatures drop to -30 degrees Celsius. This is a significant improvement over the older Xue Long, whose limited facilities often meant that researchers had no choice but to expose themselves to the elements out on the vessel’s open deck just so they could successfully conduct their experiments.

Photo: Pless

Xue Long 2’s research facilities include a moon pool, a control room, an aft deck with cranes and core sampler, a survey station, and a bow-mounted box keel where scientific equipment such as survey sensors could be installed and operated even while the vessel is underway. Further, much of the onboard scientific equipment is fully automated, thus allowing certain experiments to be effectively carried out even with less manpower. The array of facilities also includes a conference room with space for up to 80 people.

Xue Long 2 comes equipped with a DP2 system and a stability control system that prevents the hull from tilting more than 38 degrees in any direction even as the vessel is rocked by strong winds and rough waves. Also, a hull monitoring system assists the crew in identifying in real-time whether there are any issues that could potentially compromise hull integrity. A nearly similar monitoring system is installed in the engine room to enable the crew to have a better assessment of the performance of the engines and to make immediate adjustments to the sailing speed and the operating profile as needed. All these systems would help lower the risk of hull and engine failure, both of which are undesirable events on a vessel that is intended to operate a considerable distance from the nearest port facilities for weeks or even months at a time.

Xue Long 2’s operators and designers clearly put a premium on safety as also evidenced by the redundant power and control systems. Jiangnan Shipyard claims the vessel has over 420 kilometres of cables through which electrical power is supplied to the various onboard systems whereas most other conventional research vessels have no more than 180 kilometres of cables each.

Xue Long 2 has been sailing on round trips to Antarctica since late 2019, conducting research and delivering essential supplies to China’s four research stations on the continent in support of the Chinese National Antarctic Research Expedition (CHINARE) programme.

Click here for more news, features, and reviews under this month’s Research and Training Week.

Xue Long 2
Type of vessel:Research vessel
Classification:Lloyd’s Register, China Classification Society
Owner:Government of China
Operator:Polar Research Institute of China
Designer:Aker Arctic, 708 Research Institute
Builder:Jiangnan Shipyard Group
Hull construction material:Steel
Length overall:122.5 metres
Beam:22.3 metres
Draught:7.85 metres
Depth:11.8 metres
Displacement:13,000 tonnes
Main engines:4 x diesel engines
Propulsion:2 x azimuth drives
Side thrusters:2 x side thrusters
Cruising speed:12 knots
Range:20,000 nautical miles
Cranes:2 x deck cranes
Other deck equipment:Core sampler
Other equipment installed:DP2 system, hull monitoring system, engine monitoring system, stability control system
Interior fitout/furnishings:Control room, 80-person conference room, survey station, moon pool, bow-mounted box keel, interior heating and insulation
Type of fuel:Diesel
Crew:90 including scientific personnel

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