Icebreaker investments are a form of sustainable industrial policy
Let’s reveal the chilling plot of this blog right from the start: despite global warming, icebreakers will continue to be a necessity in Finland. Our winters may be changing, but our need to navigate through ice is not going away. In fact, the larger amount of pack ice during warm winters may make the conditions even more challenging.
Therefore, Finland’s foreign trade and future industrial investments require solid icebreaking capacity. While Finnish industrial facilities depend on year-round transports enabled by icebreaking, our key competing countries have no such hurdles to face. Success in the global competition requires us to catch up with everyone else using efficient icebreaking services.
In trade, Finland remains an island. Even though the share of services has increased steadily, sea freight continues to make up the majority of our exports. In the forest industry alone, 90% of the exports are transported to global markets by sea. Therefore, icebreaker procurements are an important investment in the reliability of delivery and competitive strength of businesses operating in the North.
At the same time, the green transition increases the demand for the production of goods to replace the fossil economy, promoting investments in both the forest industry and other industries offering climate solutions. Icebreakers are a major acquisition, but the costs come into perspective when considering the benefits. Well-functioning shipping improves the security of supply and the reliability of deliveries while making Finland a more attractive environment for investments. Finland should also tap into its world-class icebreaking expertise.
The expiring Finnish icebreaking equipment must be replaced with modern, low-emission icebreakers that meet the needs of today’s cargo ships. The oldest of Finland’s eight current icebreakers are Urho and Sisu, which were built in the 1970s, and Voima, which was built in 1954 and overhauled in 1979. Freight traffic is moving to increasingly bigger ships due to environmental reasons, and the current icebreakers cannot open passages wide enough for them.
The decision to replace the oldest icebreakers must be made in the new parliamentary term. A strategic and systematic approach is also needed for the renewing of the entire Finnish icebreaking fleet. A functional solution requires cooperation between authorities, businesses and operators, and we recommend setting up a work group in 2023 to promote this goal.