NEW DELHI: India is in the process of acquiring an icebreaker for a whopping Rs.800 crore ($144 million) for conducting scientific and business exploration in the polar regions.
The Ministry of Earth Sciences has submitted a proposal to the government and is likely to get a go ahead by the end of 2013, Shailesh Nayak, secretary in the ministry, said.
The hi-tech ship that can cut through 1.5-2 metre thick ice is equipped with several laboratories for carrying out experiments in the Arctic and in Antarctica. It will be custom built for India.
"We are in the process of acquiring an icebreaker ship for carrying out exploration in the polar region. We have the design ready about what kind of ship we need and what facility and labs we need," Nayak said.
"The ship would cost somewhere around Rs. 800-900 crore. We have to go through a long process of approvals and hopefully we will get the final approval by this year. Our estimate as of now is that we should be able to get it by the end of 2016," he said.
While India is in the process of acquiring, China has commissioned a new polar ice-breaker, its second after the Xuelong, or snow dragon.
Besides scientific interests, both India and China have business interests related to mineral resources, fisheries and shorter sea routes in the Arctic.
India has one research station in the Arctic, Himadri, and three in Antarctica.
Explaining India's interest behind buying the ship, Nayak said: "This signifies that we are serious about studying changes in climate change happening in the polar regions. Right now for experiments, we hire or charter the ships from private parties in Russia and Norway for short durations."
"Scientists have to collect a lot of data to study the changes happening in the region. With this ship you can take long cruises as it has a capability of 45 days' endurance and cut through not very thick but 1.5-2 metre ice. If you have thin layer of ice you can cut it and go there and take measurements," he said.
Indian scientists can then carry experiments like studying change in the ocean temperature and how the temperature and salinity vary in different areas.
"Based on that you can find the structure of currents in the ocean and how it has changed during the course of time," he said.
The ship can be used in North Pole and South Pole as both have opposite summer season, he said.
"Basically the idea is that we should be able to use the ship round the year and if you can't use it round the year, then investment is not justified. So we can use the ship for six months in Antarctica and for the same period in the Arctic," he said.