Mika Laurilehto, CSO, Rauma Marine Constructions
Most of Finnish and Swedish icebreakers are aging, and their useful life is coming to an end. There are too few icebreakers, the vessels are too small and their emissions too high. Therefore, the two countries are planning for a joint procurement of next-generation icebreakers. Although the decisions to build them is yet to be made, the Swedish Maritime Administration has already made preliminary inquiries about whether RMC would be interested in building the vessels.
When it comes to import and export, Finland is like an island. Sea lanes are vital to the country. In 2020, more than 83 per cent of imported and exported goods were transported by sea. Our most important export country is Sweden, our western neighbour, and out of the 6.3 million tonnes of goods exported there, 5.2 million was transported by ship. It is clear that the sea lanes in the Baltic Sea area must stay open throughout the coldest months of the year. The icebreakers now in use will not be able to handle the task in the future.
The next generation of icebreakers must respond to great expectations when it comes to performance and eco-friendliness. Their emissions must be 70 per cent lower than those of their predecessors in the Urho and Atle class, they must be able to break a 32-metre-wide channel in the ice, endure tough conditions that are becoming even more severe, and operate for up to 50 years.
To be able to build such icebreakers, a shipyard must have know-how in arctic shipbuilding and the ability to implement new technology and innovations in a way that increases the icebreaking capabilities of the vessels while cutting emissions to a fraction. Moreover, previous experience from public-sector procurements plays an important role: knowing the process and necessary preparations makes collaboration between the buyer and builder smoother.
Arctic vessels and low-emission technology are RMC’s core competencies
RMC’s vessels are not produced in series. They are novel and technically advanced, state-of-the-art products tailored to the buyer’s needs. When it comes to technology development projects and future innovations, RMC works in close cooperation with universities, equipment suppliers and other partners.
This kind of competence will be key in building the next generation of icebreakers.
RMC has plenty of experience in building vessels for challenging weather conditions. The company has been operating the Rauma shipyard from 2014, and in these seven years, it has, for example, upgraded the operative capabilities of icebreaker Otso, done a general overhaul and modernisation of research vessel Aranda, and built two car and passenger ferries: Hammershus, completed in 2018, and Aurora Botnia, completed in 2021. The strong RMC order book shows that the industry trusts RMC’s competence. The shipyard is currently building a new car and passenger ferry for Tallink as well as designing two car and passenger ferries for an operator in Tasmania and four multipurpose corvettes for the Finnish Navy. The corvettes must also be able to perform in challenging weather, sea and ice conditions around the year.
A great portion of the shipyard’s personnel have an impressive track record from working at RMC’s predecessors at the Rauma shipyard. Various companies operated the shipyard from 1992 to 2014, and their commercial vessel projects total more than 30. In addition, nearly all of the Finnish government’s multipurpose icebreakers, larger patrol and naval vessels have been built and serviced at the Rauma shipyard.
The driving power must be future-proof
The long lifespan of new icebreakers poses a significant challenge to shipbuilding. Questions of driving power and emissions will change in fifty years, and they will be difficult to anticipate. However, decisions must be made now so current emission reduction goals can be achieved.
Bio-based fuels and battery technology are the solutions considered to have the most potential for the near future. These are also used in Aurora Botnia, which the Rauma shipyard completed recently: in addition to electricity and liquefied natural gas (LNG), it can use locally produced biogas (LBG) or synthetic methane (SNG), which can be produced with renewable energy. Aurora Botnia is the most environmentally friendly vessel in its category, and its emissions have been calculated to be 50 per cent lower than those of its predecessor, built in 1981.
Although the fuel of the future is not yet set in stone, it is clear that vessels operating shorter distances and in coastal waters will use fuels that are locally produced. Whether they are ferries for Tasmanian waters or icebreakers for arctic conditions, next-generation vessels will create local demand, which will yield returns for investments in energy production and create a local cash flow in the area. At the same time, the need to transport fossil energy will decrease significantly.
The icebreaker project has potential for developing cutting-edge technology
Public procurements have always been spearheads for industrial development and success in Finland and Sweden. Likewise, the procurement of new icebreakers offers an opportunity to develop new technologies and the maritime industry cluster.
A joint project between Finland and Sweden would restore the role of the two countries’ maritime clusters as global leaders in arctic expertise. Moreover, it would safeguard national security of supply in terms of export and import by sea. All necessary competence and technology can be found in the Nordics.
Nonetheless, before the vessels can be built, the Finnish and Swedish governments must work together and make creative decisions to ensure that the project can be carried out in a cost-effective way while promoting environmentally sustainable seafaring.
The cluster of coronavirus cases detected mid-September at Rauma Marine Constructions’ (RMC) shipyard in Rauma has been brought under control. The cluster was detected early on during the company’s own random testing, allowing the containment of the situation in under a month. The Regional State Administrative Agency (AVI) has ordered the City of Rauma to conduct mandatory health inspections at the shipyard, the practical implications of which will be clarified in the near future.
The first cases of the September infection cluster at Rauma shipyard were detected through RMC’s own random testing of asymptomatic personnel on 17 September. In cooperation with the infectious disease authorities, RMC immediately extended random testing to those who had been working with the infected parties. Due to the division of the workforce into smaller teams, as outlined in the company’s updated safety plan, these individuals were quickly located.
During the following days, additional cases were reported during testing conducted by RMC, resulting in RMC and the health authorities of the City of Rauma deciding to implement extended additional testing to everyone working on the ship currently under construction. Nearly 1,000 tests were conducted, and part of the personnel were tested twice or more. Fully vaccinated individuals were also tested.
The number of cases at the shipyard started to decline last week, after which RMC has continued the random testing already implemented last spring. The situation has remained calm: no new cases have been reported among some hundred random tests conducted this ongoing week.
During the past week, four new cases have been detected in individuals placed in quarantine. Since 17 September, a total of 217 infections have been reported.
The practical implications of the Regional State Administrative Agency’s order to be clarified in the upcoming days
The Regional State Administrative Agencies have in the past weeks ordered mandatory health inspections for several shipyards. On 13 October, the Regional State Administrative Agency for Southwestern Finland obligated the City of Rauma to conduct mandatory health inspections concerning RMC, the company’s subsidiaries, and subcontractors.
According to AVI, correct measures have already been taken at the Rauma shipyard that have positively impacted the current situation. According to the Regional State Administrative Agency the order is intended to support the positive development.
Ville Laaksonen, Chief Operating Officer at Rauma Marine Constructions, considers the decision from the past week legitimate in the current situation.
”During the past weeks, the coronavirus situation has escalated in several countries, as well as at Finland’s major shipyards. This means that there is a clear need for joint policies. However, we are also pleased that the Regional State Administrative Agency has taken notice of the extensive coronavirus safety measures RMC has already implemented since spring. The measures allowed the coronavirus situation to remain calm for months before this autumn’s cases.”
According to Laaksonen, the exact, practical implications of the order by the Regional State Administrative Agency have not been fully clarified, but the guidelines have been set.
“The Regional State Administrative Agency has issued the order to the City of Rauma, meaning we will continue to advance the matter in close cooperation with them and the health authorities. Among other things, there are plans to further expand testing and require new employees to have received a full series of vaccinations. We will also continue to organise vaccination possibilities at a low-threshold at the shipyard together with the City of Rauma.”
The extended testing efforts for coronavirus detection have been completed at Rauma Marine Constructions’ (RMC) shipyard, following the infection cluster detected this autumn. Four new infections have been reported this week and a total of 213 since 17 September. Next week, RMC will continue the random testing that began last spring. Moreover, other extensive COVID prevention measures will be kept in place.
The number of coronavirus cases is declining at Rauma shipyard as a result of extended testing efforts, which concluded today, 13 October.
RMC and the shipyard’s network companies, along with the health authorities of the City of Rauma, have this week tested approximately 350 individuals who have been working on the ship that is now under construction. Around 430 people were tested last week and around 540 the week before.
Four new infections were reported following this week’s testing. A total of 213 new infections have been reported since 17 September. Very few further infections have been discovered outside the shipyard.
Starting next week, random testing, which was already implemented last spring, will continue at the shipyard in agreement with the local health authorities. In addition, other stricter safety measures will remain in effect.
“We have been conducting random testing at the shipyard since spring, and it is vital to continue doing so, as it was random testing that allowed us to detect the infection cluster at an early stage this autumn. Random testing, additional extensive safety measures and meticulous cooperation with the health authorities of the City of Rauma enabled the containment of the epidemic in under a month,” said Timo Suistio, Rauma Marine Constructions’ Executive Vice President, who is the head of the shipyard’s COVID task force.
Testing, teamwork and masks are the main COVID prevention methods
RMC’s shipyard has implemented extensive safety measures for the prevention of coronavirus infections since the beginning of the pandemic. Following the cluster of cases detected in February, the company has implemented a tightened safety plan.
Workers coming to their shift straight from abroad will be required to show a negative COVID test result taken no more than 72 hours after arrival to Finland. Without a negative test result, entry to the shipyard is denied.
Individuals who show symptoms will be denied entry to the shipyard area and will be directed straight to occupational health care services instead. Weekly random testing will be conducted on shipyard workers who are not showing symptoms. Since spring 2021, over 300 tests have been conducted.
To enable possible early detection, shipyard workers are divided into teams that share accommodation and work, take breaks and commute together. Infected individuals are tested again on the second-to-last day of their quarantine, and returning to work is permitted only after a negative test result.
Masks are required in the ship under construction and other indoor facilities at the shipyard, and their use will be strictly monitored. There are stations for handwashing and sanitizing across the shipyard area.
Rauma Marine Constructions (RMC) is building four multipurpose corvettes for the Finnish Defence Forces. For security reasons, the vessels will be constructed in a multipurpose hall, which will be optimised for building government vessels. The contract for the hall’s construction was signed today. Construction work will start in November.
Preparation for the building phase of the Squadron 2020 project is well underway at Rauma shipyard. RMC has today signed an agreement with Finnish construction company SRV on building a multipurpose construction hall at the shipyard.
The contracting parties are SRV and a newly formed real estate company owned by RMC and the City of Rauma. RMC signed the agreement as a representative of the real estate company.
Estimated to cost around EUR 26 million, the project will be carried out through a cooperative project management model. SRV’s share of the cost will be approximately EUR 19 million.
According to Jyrki Heinimaa, CEO and President of RMC, the agreement is an important, tangible step in the joint effort with the Finnish Defence Forces.
“We have already made investments in welding technology to achieve the needed measurement accuracy for the corvettes’ steel work. The multipurpose construction hall is an especially important investment for us because it will allow us to proceed with the construction of the vessels. The new hall will be optimised for the construction of government vessels, which shows our commitment to the Squadron 2020 project. The project is crucial for Finland’s maritime defence and national emergency supply.”
Lari Mallius, Area Director at SRV, is looking forward to collaborating with the shipyard.
“We will bring our own expertise into this project that will advance Finnish shipbuilding greatly. The user requirements regarding the hall’s versatile use in the future and the need for optimising costs will be taken into account already at the construction phase. Close cooperation throughout the project will guarantee a successful outcome.”
The construction of the hall will start already next month, and it will be ready by the end of 2022. Steel production for the Squadron 2020 project will start in 2022, and construction will be moved into the new hall in 2023.
According to current plans, the hall will be around 180 metres long, 40 metres wide and 30 metres tall. Later, it can also be used in the construction of sections for car and passenger ferries.
Following the detection of multiple coronavirus infections at the shipyard some two weeks ago, RMC, the shipyard’s network partner companies and the Rauma health authorities have jointly tested about 430 people this week. The people who were tested have all been working on the ship currently under construction. Last week, approximately 540 people were tested.
A total of 194 cases of COVID-19 have been reported at the shipyard since September 17.
Contact tracers have been unable to reach the contact persons of one network partner company. Therefore, the company has been denied access to the shipyard area for the time being, and the authorities have ordered all employees of the company in quarantine.
Testing will continue next week
As a precaution, testing will continue next Monday and Tuesday. During these days, personnel working on the ship, who are currently not in isolation or quarantine, will be tested. Those who are about to be released from quarantine will be re-tested on the second to last day of quarantine and can return to work after getting a negative test result.
“The cluster of infections was detected during our random testing and caught at an early stage. As a result, we’ve been able us to react quickly, mainly in good cooperation with our network companies and the health authorities. We are ready to continue with the extended testing as long as is required,” said Jyrki Heinimaa, CEO and President of Rauma Marine Constructions.
Urgent call to the authorities: COVID pass needed as soon as possible
A significant proportion of those infected in the September cluster have been unvaccinated. Therefore, RMC will continue to provide easy-access vaccination points at the shipyard in cooperation with the local health authorities.
The company is also considering implementing a model that would require network companies to ensure that their employees working at the shipyard are vaccinated. However, an employer cannot legally require employees to be vaccinated or check their vaccination records, which complicates the enforcement of such a model.
RMC is hoping for a feasible solution from the authorities.
“Current legislation does not allow us to require vaccinations, which is why we are urging the authorities to provide rapid solutions for this difficult situation. Despite very strict security measures, we are facing cases of COVID-19 again. Unfortunately, this is true for many other players as well. One solution which would significantly improve health and safety is a COVID pass that could be checked for each person coming to work. We hope that the authorities will be able to further the implementation of the pass as rapidly as possible,” said Heinimaa.
Due to the coronavirus infections detected through random testing last week, Rauma Marine Constructions (RMC), its network partner companies and local health authorities have jointly tested around 540 people working in the shipyard. Since 17 September, a total of 136 COVID-19 cases have been confirmed. 96 of them were confirmed this week. The confirmed cases are mainly among network company employees. The final number of those infected is not yet known, as test results for around 120 people have yet to be obtained.
Last week, those working under the third deck of the ship under construction were directed to be tested, but as an additional precautionary measure, RMC decided to extend testing to all those working on the ship. To prevent further infections, employees who are currently not in isolation or quarantine will be tested next week.
Vaccination is encouraged for all personnel, mandatory vaccination under consideration
The cluster of coronavirus infections confirmed in September mostly concerns employees of RMC’s network companies. RMC is now actively encouraging them to get vaccinated. In cooperation with the health authorities of the City of Rauma, RMC arranged a vaccination point at the shipyard last week, and the next one is scheduled for Monday, October 4, 2021.
“The majority of those infected in this cluster have been unvaccinated, which is why we encourage everyone working at the shipyard to receive their vaccination as quickly as possible. COVID safety at the shipyard is a joint effort, and we want to help with the vaccination efforts in every way we can. We are also exploring the possibility of implementing a model where network companies are required to ensure that their employees working at the shipyard are fully vaccinated,” said Jyrki Heinimaa, CEO and President of Rauma Marine Constructions.
Since 17 September, 40 coronavirus cases have been discovered in company commissioned testing among those working at Rauma Marine Constructions’ (RMC) shipyard, with 34 of the 40 cases discovered this week. Due to these new cases, RMC has implemented – alongside its network partners and health officials – immediate actions to prevent further infections.
The cases have been located to a specific section of a ship under construction at the shipyard and they include mainly employees from network companies. As a precaution, the approximately 200 people working on this section of the ship will not be performing any work at the shipyard this upcoming weekend. Those not placed under quarantine by the health officials will be tested next Monday. Those receiving a negative test result may return back to work.
In order to prevent further infections, RMC has, in collaboration with the Rauma city health officials, significantly increased random testing. There has been an increase in random testing conducted at the Rauma shipyard testing station for the past week, both concerning RMC’s own personnel, as well as personnel from the network companies. In addition, those who have been fully vaccinated have also been tested. Furthermore, on Thursday, September 23, RMC offered its premises for the shipyard health officials to conduct vaccinations for the employees of the network companies.
”We take the occurred infections extremely seriously and in collaboration with the authorities, want to ensure that there will be no more cases. Thanks to the previous successful collaboration with the authorities, we are well prepared to react quickly to infections occurring at the shipyard. We will now monitor the situation very carefully for further measures,” says Jyrki Heinimaa, CEO, Rauma Marine Constructions.
Over 2,600 random tests conducted by mid-September – six infections detected
Since March this year, RMC has conducted random testing as a safety precaution both to its own employees, as well as the employees of its network partner companies. Prior to this week’s cases, over 2,600 tests had been conducted on those working at the shipyard, from which there have been six confirmed cases of infections.
Heinimaa emphasises the importance of testing, especially in light of the ongoing situation.
”Random tests have provided us with nearly a real-time view of the coronavirus situation at the shipyard, which has remained calm before this week. The model for testing has helped us also to react quickly to this situation since the cases were discovered at the company’s own testing station. We have been able to quickly extend testing to a specific section of the shipyard’s personnel, which we hope will help to calm the situation.”
All employees in the network companies may choose to visit the testing station located outside the shipyard gates to get tested on their own initiative if they are asymptomatic. If a person coming in for work has even the slightest of symptoms, they will be directed straight to occupational healthcare.
Other strict security measures also still in effect
The RMC shipyard has maintained strict safety precautions since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak in order to prevent infections. Following the cluster of cases detected in February 2021, RMC immediately introduced an enhanced security plan, which is still adhered to.
All those working at the shipyard and who are asymptomatic will be tested randomly and the ones arriving straight to work at the shipyard from abroad will be required to show a negative test result. The employees of the network companies will be divided into teams concerning accommodation, transportation and work at the shipyard. This will allow that all employees potentially exposed to the coronavirus can be quickly traced in order to be placed under quarantine. Furthermore, facemasks are obligatory at the inside facilities of the shipyard and at the ship under construction.
Rauma Marine Constructions’ second newbuild Aurora Botnia will be celebrated in Vaasa, Finland, today. The vessel is estimated to arrive in Vaasa around noon, and it will receive its official name at the christening event starting at 3 p.m. The world’s most environmentally friendly car and passenger ferry will operate the route between Vaasa and Umeå, Sweden, daily.
The construction of the car and passenger ferry Aurora Botnia started with ceremonies in September 2019. The next major milestone was reached in February 2020 when the ship’s keel was laid. In September 2020, launching was celebrated one year after construction began, and in June 2021 the vessel first reached the sea.
Today, 25 August, the christening of Aurora Botnia will be celebrated in Wasaline’s hometown Vaasa. The vessel will arrive in Vaasa around noon, immediately after its second test run at sea.
The project has lasted for two years, cost EUR 120 million and had an employment impact of around 800 person-years. Therefore, it has been special for both Rauma Marine Constructions (RMC) and Wasaline.
“We’ve had a wonderful opportunity to build such a magnificent vessel, which is totally unique even from a global perspective. I would like to thank the client for their excellent cooperation, which has enabled us to successfully complete the project, despite the very challenging conditions,” says Jyrki Heinimaa, CEO and President of Rauma Marine Constructions.
“I would like to thank everyone involved in this project, especially our staff, who have made this possible. We are now seeing the result of years of work and witnessing a historic day together: a ship designed for Kvarken will start operating. Aurora Botnia is the most environmentally friendly large RoPax ferry in the world, and its degree of domestic origin exceeds 80 per cent,” says Peter Ståhlberg, CEO of Wasaline.
The most environmentally friendly car and passenger ferry
Aurora Botnia is equipped with the latest environmental technology. The ship is significantly more environmentally friendly than the current requirements, which makes it the first car and passenger ferry in the world to meet the criteria of the Clean Design class notation.
Aurora Botnia can handle traffic to harbours with electricity, which reduces both emissions and noise generated. The ship’s sulphur, nitrogen and carbon dioxide emissions are reduced, for example, by main machines that operate primarily with liquefied natural gas (LNG).
Special attention has been paid to future fuels in the design of the vessel. Aurora Botnia is also able to utilise biogas as its fuel, which is considered one of the most realistic alternative fuels in the near future.
“It is of paramount importance for both the customer and the environment to build ships that stand the test of time. The ships we build today must also be able to operate in decades’ time without massive modifications or, at worst, scrapping. Aurora Botnia’s ability to utilise biogas is one way to meet this challenge,” says Heinimaa.
You can watch a live broadcast of the celebration in Vaasa today on Wasaline’s website at www.wasaline.com. The live stream will begin 3 p.m. The ship will embark on its maiden voyage on Saturday, 28 August 2021.
Aurora Botnia in a nutshell:
Length: 150 m
Width: 26 m
Draught: 6.1 m
Gross tonnage: 24,300
Speed: 20 knots
Lane metres: 1,500
Photo: Aurora Botnia on its way from RMC’s shipyard towards Vaasa. Photo credit: RMC/Antti Lehto.