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October 8, 2009

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China to build own icebreaker for poles

CHINA will spend three to four years building its own icebreaker for scientific expeditions to the northern and southern extremes of the planet.

The vessel would join Xuelong, or Snow Dragon, now the nation's only icebreaker that was built overseas, officials from the Polar Research Institute of China said yesterday.

They said the new vessel would be designed by China and European countries with great experience in icebreaker construction and built by Chinese.

"It will be the first icebreaker built by China," Wei Wenliang, from the State Oceanic Administration, told a news conference yesterday that formally announced China's 26th expedition to the Antarctic that sets off on Sunday.

Xuelong was bought by China from Ukraine in 1993 and is shouldering all tasks to the North and South poles.

"The only icebreaker can't meet our demands in the research into the oceans and resources of the two poles," Wei said.

"It is always busy shuttling between its base in Shanghai and the poles for goods, equipment and staff delivery.

"This severely restricts our research time."

The institute and relevant departments first outlined plans for the icebreaker last year and the scheme has been officially approved by the State Council, or Cabinet.

Authorities are doing detailed research on budget, design, producer selection and scientific requirements.

After the icebreaker's completion, Xuelong will mainly transport goods and equipment, while the "new kid on the block" will mostly handle scientific research, according to officials.

"I have talked at length with scientists involved in Antarctic and Arctic research," Wei said. "The design of the new ship will try to meet all their requirements."

Business benefits

In addition to supporting polar research, officials said the new icebreaker could have major business benefits amid global warming.

"The polar melting means the possibility of a commercial Arctic shipping route," Wei said.

"Even though the ice is melting, only ships with icebreaking capability can sail the route.

"Experience gained from our first scientific icebreaker will streamline further commercial ship building."

Xuelong will leave Shanghai with 251 staff members for a 180-day trip in the biggest research initiative to date.

Three scientists from Taiwan will join the trip, a first in domestic polar research.

The vessel will return to Shanghai on April 10 and then head for its fourth mission to the Arctic.

After returning from the Arctic, it will head back to the Antarctic late next year.


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