British polar scientists to get new £200m icebreaker ship

Government to commission world-leading research ship for Antarctic and Arctic scientific research

Artist's impression of the Icebreaker UK Polar Research Ship
(Image credit: British Antarctic Survey/Natural Environment Research Council )

GEORGE OSBORNE announced today that the government is to spend £200m on a new icebreaker polar research ship. The ship will be a boon to UK science, supporting researchers in both the Arctic and the Antarctic.

The vessel is expected to be 430ft long, says the BBC, and will come equipped with a helipad, cranes and onboard laboratories. It will have the capability to transport and deploy submarines and other ocean sampling equipment.

The vessel, which will be completed in 2019, will be among the most advanced and capable in the world. With a specially reinforced hull, it will be able to push deeper into the icepacks than any other British ship.

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Current plans suggest that the ship will be able to maintain a speed of three knots while breaking through ice floes. Up to 60 scientists and research staff will be able to live aboard and the ship will be self-sufficient for up to 80 days, during which time it could cover 24,000 nautical miles.

Alarm has been sounded that the long-term plan may be to replace the UK's two existing polar research ships - one built in 1990, one in 1995 - with just one super-ship.

However, the National Environmental Research council, which funds polar science in the UK says there is no current plan to do this - though one of the two existing ships is owned by Norway and leased to the UK, and is likely to be returned after 2019.

It has not yet been decided where the ship will be constructed. The funding is drawn from the government's capital investment fund for science, to which the Treasury has committed £1.1bn a year in real terms until 2020-2021.

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