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The steel behemoth pushes ahead, crunching the ice as it navigates the northernmost tip of the Baltic, considered one of the most polluted seas in the world. But unlike other icebreakers spewing diesel, this state-of-the-art ship boasts cleaner fuel.
In the freezing darkness of a February morning, the immense Polaris, which at 10,000 tonnes weighs more than the Eiffel Tower, ploughs effortlessly through the half-metre (20-inch) thick ice.
Planes - Spaceship - Officer - Valtteri - Salokannel
"I used to fly planes but I don't miss it at all. In here it's like driving a spaceship!" says second officer Valtteri Salokannel on the ship's bridge, surrounded by satellite images of the ice and rows of coloured lights.
The bridge shakes gently but the thick windows cut out the noise of the howling winds on deck and metallic clanging of ice against the reinforced steel hull.
Million-euro - Vessel - Lanes - Months - Year
The 128 million-euro ($145-million) vessel is tasked with keeping shipping lanes open for up to six months of the year, allowing a constant stream of cargo ships carrying steel, paper products and chemicals in and out of the ports serving northern Finland and neighbouring Sweden.
The ship's captain, Pasi Jarvelin, boasts that Polaris is the most eco-friendly icebreaker in the world.
Anything - Sea - Shower - Water - Water—we
"We don't release anything into the sea, such as shower water, grey water—we take that back to land. And the propellers use biodegradable grease," he tells AFP.
But most importantly, it is the world's first icebreaker to run on liquefied natural gas (LNG), a lower-carbon alternative to the diesel fuel which powers most large ships.
LNG - Fuel - Jarvelin
"LNG is the cleanest known fuel that we can use," Jarvelin said.
Polaris' eco-friendlier credentials will be of increasing importance during the ship's 50-year lifespan, as the region's pristine white ice hides waters that have been singled out by the European Commission and WWF, among other international bodies, as in urgent need of action to reduce high...
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