The country has started constructing its third icebreaker, which officials say could help researchers explore the Arctic and Antarctic sea beds as early as 2025, according to recent reports from Chinese media agencies.
The vessel will be capable of hosting crewed and uncrewed deep-sea research missions, as well as transport critical supplies to the country’s seven scientific stations in the north and south pole regions.
The icebreaker would operate for four-month windows in each polar region and will spend the final four months conducting research in more temperate deep-sea locations and closer to home in the South China Sea, said Tang Gulashan, director of the Marine Equipment and Operations Management Centre, a subsidiary of the China Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Deep-Sea Science and Engineering.
The icebreaker and submersible duo will collect and analyse atmospheric, biological and other marine-related samples while it operates, according to the South China Morning Post.
The icebreaker’s utility filled the gap in China’s small but growing fleet of arctic-going vessels, said He Guangwei, deputy chief engineer at the company responsible for the build, Guangzhou Shipyard International Company. It will add to China’s existing fleet of icebreakers, Xuelong 1 and Xuelong 2, which entered Chinese service in 1993 and 2019, respectively.
Several entities, including the Hainan provincial government and the Institute for Deep-Sea Science and Engineering, are investing in the project.
This will make China only the second nation to send a submersible to one of Earth’s last truly unexplored areas – at present, only the Russian submersibles Mir 1 and its sister vessel, Mir 2, have conducted manned missions on the Arctic sea floor.
The new vessel measures 103 metres and has an average displacement of roughly 10 141 tons. It has an 80-man crew and will hit a top speed of 16 knots at flank speed, as per state media, CCTV.
Chinese submersibles were in the news last year when an unmanned submersible, Deep Sea Warrior, discovered thousands of ancient porcelain artifacts at the site of two shipwrecks at the bottom of the South China Sea.
An estimated 200 examples of the priceless items, thought to be at least 500 years old, were returned to the Sanya, Hainan Island, by Deep Sea Warrior’s mother ship, Tansuo in July 2022.