Greener operations for the Korea Polar Research Institute’s icebreaking research vessel

2 min read

10 Jun 2021


Travis Larson



2 min read

10 Jun 2021


Travis Larson



The icebreaking research vessel RV Araon, operated by the Korea Polar Research Institute (KOPRI), works in some of the world’s most pristine and environmentally sensitive waters. To minimise its environmental impact, a decision was made to upgrade the vessel’s two thrusters to use environmentally acceptable lubricants (EALs). This involved a thruster overhaul and the installation of a Wärtsilä EnduraPac unit on each thruster, which improves thruster reliability by removing water and small particulates from the oil.


KOPRI was started as a polar research laboratory under the Korea Institute of Ocean Science and Technology (KIOST) and became independent as an affiliated organisation in 2004. The organisation, which aims to continuously monitor environmental changes in the polar regions, operates the icebreaker research vessel RV Araon. The vessel can carry up to 85 people, including 25 crew members, and was designed for both science and logistics operations.


Compliance with the strictest environmental standards

Because the RV Araon operates in some of the worlds most untouched ecosystems it is critical that the vessel is as environmentally friendly as possible. An additional driver for the EAL overhaul was to comply with the US Vessel General Permit 2013 (VGP-2013) regulation, which stipulates that any vessel operating in US coastal waters needs to use EALs in all oil-to-sea interfaces unless technically unfeasible. 

The US Environmental Protection Agency describes EALs as “lubricants that have been demonstrated to meet standards for biodegradability, toxicity and bioaccumulation potential that minimize their likely adverse consequences in the aquatic environment, compared to conventional lubricants.”

Upgrading the Araon to use EALs was a government project, meaning a public bidding process was followed. “Wärtsilä Korea was chosen to supply the required parts and field services, while SAMWOO T.E.S, a leading Korean ship repair and engineering company, was chosen to perform the upgrade work. Wärtsilä Korea had previously worked with SAMWOO T.E.S to carry out a large-scale scrubber retrofit project,” explains Jung Jae Choi, Sales Manager, Wärtsilä Korea.  


Cleaner – and more reliable – thrusters

To make the Araon’s thrusters EAL compatible, a thruster overhaul was needed, which involved the units being dismantled and modifications being made to various elements, including the seals, hydraulics and oil monitoring systems.


“Wärtsilä EnduraPac units were installed to extend the durability of the oil and increase the reliability of the thrusters. The solution improves the condition of lubrication oil by reducing contamination levels, including water-in-oil saturation, caused by leaks at sea-to-oil interfaces. 

“We’re getting more and more requests for this kind of upgrade from governments and private operators, both because vessels are operating in US waters and because operators want to make their thrusters more eco-friendly,” explains Tim Lathouwers, Propulsion Sales Manager, Wärtsilä Netherlands. 


Overcoming pandemic-related challenges 

As this project took place in 2020, COVID-19 related delivery delays for vital spare parts needed to be taken into account. For example, one supplier for the pumps was based in Italy, badly affected by the first COVID outbreak in Europe, meaning their factory was closed. To minimise the effects of these delays Wärtsilä took an active role in managing parts deliveries and was in close contact with the suppliers and contractors at all times to keep things on track. 

“We aimed to achieve the fastest delivery possible despite the delays and other challenges. We carried out the installation in two phases to reduce the time needed in dry dock. First we supplied all the needed parts to overhaul the thrusters and install the major components in dry dock. Then the second shipment was for parts, for example header tanks and valves, that could be installed once the ship was back on the water. This flexibility and close cooperation between all parties – suppliers, Wärtsilä and the SAMWOO T.E.S team carrying out the installation work – ensured the project proceeded as smoothly as possible given the circumstances,” explains Jung Jae.


“We have great interest in using eco-friendly solutions, and this EAL upgrade was in line with our ambition for greener operations. Wärtsilä managed the project well and all the needed parts were delivered in the shortest possible time. 

- Chun-Sik Kim, Head/Office of Icebreaker Operations, KOPRI


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