By Mark Cardwell

When asked how many people around the world specialize in the design of ships and offshore oil and gas rigs that will operate in the Arctic and in ice, Canadian naval architect and research engineer Dan McGreer answered by recounting a clever remark he heard at a recent professional event in Banff, Alberta.

It was during the 2012 International Conference and Exhibition on Performance of Ships and Structures in Ice – ICETECH12 – an annual meeting that brings together the top minds in the highly technical field from the around the world.

Put on in mid September by the Arctic Section of the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers (SNAME), this year’s event featured 50 technical and plenary presentations dealing with topics of interest to the section’s focus or theme of performance in ice, with emphasis on icebreaking ships, ice resistant structures, and operations in ice.

“During one discussion someone joked that if a meteor were to hit Banff right now, it would wipe out almost all of the world’s expertise in ice design,” recalls McGreer. “That got a lot of laughs. And it was likely true.”

McGreer might not prove so witty when he takes the stage to participate in a case-study panel at the 5th annual Arctic Shipping North America Forum, which will be held in Montreal from Oct. 29-30.

But he will almost certainly provide his listeners with a shipload of information and insights into the criteria and processes required to design and build ships for the Arctic in general, and Canada’s new Polar icebreaker in particular.

As project manager of STX Canada Marine, which was awarded the contract to design the new Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) vessel in April, McGreer is right now busy overseeing and orchestrating one of the biggest and most challenging projects in his career.

Included in the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy (NSPS) Non-Combat contract that was awarded a year ago to Seaspan Vancouver Shipyards, the new icebreaker will be capable of operating autonomously for 270 days in the Arctic.

To be named in honour of former Conservative Prime Minister John George Diefenbaker (CCGS John G. Diefenbaker) and scheduled to be delivered to coincide with the decommissioning of the CCGS Louis S. St-Laurent in 2017, it will also be capable of operating over a larger area and in more difficult sea and weather conditions than any icebreaker ever built in Canada.

The vessel, which will be the world’s first Polar Class 2 vessel under the new 7-class system, is also being designed to accommodate up to 100 personnel and have the ability to break through 2.5 metres of ice. The deadline for final delivery of the design is the end of 2013.

This is neither the first, nor the biggest Canadian vessel design job handled by STX Marine Canada and its 25 employees, about half of whom are engineers and designers who do everything from calculations to drawing and model construction.

A naval architecture and engineering services company that has been providing ship design and engineering services nationally and internationally from offices in Vancouver, Houston and Ottawa for nearly 30 years, the company – with McGreer as project manager – has designed both Canada’s Arctic Offshore Patrol Vessel and the CCG’s Offshore Oceanographic Science Vessel.

According to McGreer, the STM Marine Polar icebreaker team is about halfway through the three-phase ship design process.

The first phase – called concept design – involves a detailed compilation and analysis of the shipowner’s requirements and criteria in an effort to determine how big the vessel needs to be.

The second phase – preliminary design – produces a structural arrangement of the ship that considers, integrates and investigates the best types of design and materials to use to withstand the cold and ice loads on the hull, among other things.

In addition to strengthened hull structures based on assumed ice impact loadings, the vessel’s main propulsion machinery must be specially designed to be both safe (fuel oil and cargo oil, for example, should not be carried in compartments against the outer shell) and to provide sufficient power for safe operation in ice-covered waters.  Ice impact loadings are similarly used for the calculation and design of the ship’s propeller and propeller shaft.

According to McGreer, the preliminary design will also include model testing to confirm the performance of Canada’s new Polar vessel in up to 2.5 metres of ice as per ­specification.

Finally, the design must be reviewed and approved by a marine classification society, which in this case is Lloyd’s Register in London.

“The concept design is already done,” McGreer said in a phone interview from his Vancouver office in late September. “We plan to wrap up preliminary design by the end of the year.”

He added that one of the most fascinating dimensions of any design project involving Arctic-bound vessels is “seeing the performance of a ship and how it moves through ice. But for me the most interesting thing about any ship project is when you work with the customer and deliver ships that will make them happy.”

That will require an impressive design when you consider what CCG wants to do with the vessel.

“The goal of the project is to deliver a multi-purpose, three-season vessel with enhanced capabilities that can operate in the Arctic during the June-Oct timeframe,” says Derek Buxton, who is CCG’s Project Manager of the Polar icebreaker initiative.

He will share the stage with McGreer in Montreal this month.

Their case study session will be chaired by Morten Mejlaender-Larsen, Program Director for cold climate shipping at DNV – for Det Norske Veritas, a Norway-based global provider of services for managing risk, property and the environment.

According to Buxton, the Polar icebreaker design process has been painstakingly slow but sure. It began in 2009 with the determination of needs for eight different mission profiles that were developed with the help of working groups comprised of veteran Coast Guard captains.

“We often had more than 300 years of Arctic operational experience in the room,” recalled Buxton, adding that CCG on average sends about a half dozen ships with two crews into the Arctic every sailing season.

The development of rigorous operational scenarios for all eight missions – involving sovereignty, science, economic development, national security, Northern resupply and logistical support, search and rescue, environmental and emerging response, and fisheries, conservation and protection – a list of 300-plus requirements was compiled of things the vessel will be required to do.

“It takes a long time to boil it all down,” noted Buxton. “We culled any and all bells and whistles we didn’t need. We’re not in business to gold-plate our ships.”

He added that CCG also did its own design process using its own team of engineers to look at, examine and consider the individual requirements as a combined set.

“Design is always a compromise,” said Buxton. “Having these discussions influences the design of the ship [and] affects construction and performance. [And] the exercise makes us a more informed customer. It helps us to go to the private sector as an informed and valuable client.”

He added that the excitement level is beginning to rise in CCG circles now that the design concept has been confirmed and work continues on the preliminary design phase of the new Polar icebreaker.

“We’ve pretty much nailed down how the ship will look,” he said. “We know the hull form, the powering and structural design. Everything’s on track and tracking well.”

The bottom line in design, he added, is the need to meet the structural requirements that will enable the new ship to perform optimally in ice conditions.

“By nature it has to be a big and powerful ship that is able to perform missions,” said Buxton. “We’ve deliberately designed into the vessel a high degree of operational flexibility.”

He added that the ship’s eight missions “can be plugged-in in a modular sense,” and its “significant capabilities” will be viable over the vessel’s 40-year lifetime.

“We’re deliberately taking a slow pace so that that we can evaluate, understand and consider every design aspect for the ship,” said Buxton. “We’ve looked at how and where we will operate, we observe the international unified rule set for Polar Class vessels [and] we’ve talked to commercial shipowners in Canada and Europe and the United States Coast Guard to help us determine ice class, strength, hull thickness – you name it. We’ve done our homework.”