After a record-breaking start to winter with the entire Gulf of Bothnia now covered in ice and the Lake Vänern also beginning to freeze, all of the Swedish Maritime Administration’s five icebreakers are now in full operation, as the authority said.

The Swedish Maritime Administration’s icebreaking is a necessity for Sweden to function all year round. Without ice breaking, some ports in Norrland risk having to close for up to 130 days a year.

This year’s icebreaker season started in record time and the first assistance already took place on December 2, 2023.

Although it was a milder period before Christmas, the ice has now spread and the Gulf of Bothnia is now ice-covered down to Örnsköldsvik, which means that all five-state icebreakers are now active to assist merchant shipping.

“After the early start of icebreaking this season, the ice has gradually grown in and now the entire Gulf of Bothnia is covered in ice,” said Annika Hjelmsten, operations operator at the icebreaker management at the Swedish Maritime Administration.

The first icebreaker assistance of the season was carried out to the port of Kalix by the icebreaker Ale on December 2, 2023.

So far this season, the Swedish Maritime Administration’s icebreakers have assisted 113 ships, which compared to previous seasons is a high number.

“The ice situation has also worsened in The Lake Vänern, where we expect to start state ice breaking within the next few days. The icebreakers are a prerequisite for deliveries to arrive and for the industry in particular and society in general to not stand still,” said Annika Hjelmsten.

The Swedish Maritime Administration’s smallest icebreaker Ale is now leaving the Bothnian Bay and heading towards Trollhättekanal to enter the Lake Vänern, where the ice is now beginning to grow to such an extent that icebreaking is a prerequisite for sea traffic.

Icebreaker Ale

Photo credit: Swedish Maritime Administration

The state-owned icebreakers are of great importance for shipping to and from Sweden in order the ports to be able to function all year round.

Normally, the ice breaking season runs from December to the end of May. The Swedish Maritime Administration ensures that all Swedish ports can be open all year round by breaking ice at sea, assisting, directing, guiding and towing ships that have problems getting to port.

The Swedish Maritime Administration has five of its own icebreakers: Ale, Atle, Frej, Oden and Ymer.

Close to ten million tons of goods are shipped to and from the ports in the Gulf of Bothnia per winter, which corresponds to approximately one million trucks.