Press Release

Call for tender procedure for the construction of a successor to the icebreaker Polarstern has been cancelled.

A statement by the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research
[14. February 2020] 

The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) today cancelled the Europe-wide call for tenders for the procurement of a new polar research vessel, Polarstern II, for legal reasons. In times of unresolved climate issues, the research mission of the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) can only be fulfilled in the long term with a modern icebreaker. This understanding is also shared by the BMBF. Therefore, we will work intensively with the BMBF to find a solution, which also aims to set up a new award procedure. Among other things, the experiences from the current MOSAiC expedition will be incorporated into the planning process in order to develop an icebreaker that is as future-proof, powerful and sustainable as possible.

The icebreaker Polarstern is the symbol of German polar research. Put into service in 1982 the research vessel has completed over 120 expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic, covering 1.7 million nautical miles. The ship is in operation on an average of 310 days a year, working in the service of addressing crucial questions of climate change.

"We are proud of our Polarstern, which is currently drifting past the North Pole under extreme conditions - locked in the Arctic sea ice during the polar night - even though she is now almost 40 years old. The ship is a powerful instrument for polar and marine research. Over the past decades, not only many colleagues at the AWI have been able to see this for themselves, but also scientists from all over the world. After numerous expeditions, I have come to appreciate this unique ship as a cruise leader myself," says Prof. Antje Boetius, Director of the Alfred Wegener Institute. 

"That is why we will now do everything in our power to ensure that a new process is established and that we get a successor as soon as possible in coordination with the BMBF. Until then, we have to take good care of our powerful ship so that we can use it to find answers to pressing questions about the future of our planet in the polar regions over the coming years. 

The announcement of the cancellation of the awarding procedure is, of course, a new challenge. In the long term, without a modern research icebreaker, we will not be able to fulfil 100 percent of the mandate we have been given by society. In addition, expeditions with Polarstern make a significant and internationally highly visible contribution to ensuring that Germany achieves its goals in research and sustainability. We know from discussions that the BMBF fully shares this view.  We will also see this latest development as an opportunity because the demands on a modern research icebreaker have changed significantly in the years since planning for the successor vessel commenced. Both the current MOSAiC expedition and the development of icebreakers by our international partners teach us this. In this respect, this experience must now also be incorporated into the new tender process. In the new planning,we will consider technical solutions that were hardly conceivable ten years ago. Our goal is a powerful icebreaker that can be used in the new ice conditions. On our research expeditions in the future, for example, we will increasingly use more powerful underwater robots, a factor we can now take even more into account when redesigning a ship. At the same time, we are focusing on innovations for the most sustainable ship operation possible. In this way, Germany will be able to maintain a leading role in polar and marine research into the future."

Currently, the Polarstern is frozen in sea ice and drifts through the Arctic for a year, making it one of the most famous icebreakers internationally. The MOSAiC expedition, with participants from 20 nations, is being realised under the leadership of the Alfred Wegener Institute. The fact that the German icebreaker is still one of the most powerful research vessels in the world today is also due to a general overhaul carried out between 1999 and 2001, when the ship was technically upgraded to the then state-of-the-art.