Sōya (icebreaker)

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The Sōya at the Museum of Maritime Science, Tokyo
The Sōya at the Museum of Maritime Science, Tokyo
Career (Japan) Japanese Ensign
Name: Sōya
Owner: USSR/Tatsunan Kisen Co/IJN/Department of Finance/Allied Repatriation Service/Maritime Safety Agency/Museum of Maritime Science
Ordered: 1936
Builder: Koyagi/Kawaminami/Matsuo
Launched: 16th February 1938
Maiden voyage: possibly 1939
Nickname: “Santa Claus of the Sea”.
Fate: Museum ship
General characteristics
Type: Icebreaker / Research Vessel
Displacement: 3,800t(1944)/4,100t(1978)
Length: 77.5m(1944)/83.3m(1978)
Beam: 12.8m (1944)/13.5m(1978)
Propulsion: VTE steam engine, 2 boilers, 1 shaft. / Diesel engines
Speed: 12.4 knots

The Sōya (宗谷?) is a Japanese museum ship that previously served as an icebreaker and patrol boat, and was the first Japanese ship to take part in an Antarctic research expedition.


The vessel that eventually became the Japanese icebreaker Sōya, was originally named Volochaevets. It was ordered from the Matsuo shipyard Koyagi Island, Nagasaki, Japan in 1936, by the Soviet Union as one of three ice-strengthened cargo ships (as part payment for the purchase of part of the South Manchuria Railway (also known as the Chinese Eastern Railway). Two other ice-breakers were Bolshevik and Komsomolets. She was launched from the shipyard now renamed as the Kawaminami Shipyard in February 1938. But as result of the growing tension between Japan and the USSR she was never handed over but rather was completed as an ice-breaking cargo freighter for the Tatsunan Kisen Co. She was now renamed the Chiryō maru.[1][2]

War time role

In November 1939 the Imperial Japanese Navy requisitioned her and in February 1940 she was given her current name (the same name had previously been used for the ex-Russian armoured cruiser Varyag) and assigned duties as an auxiliary ammunition ship/survey vessel. She had an eventful wartime career being attacked with torpedoes in January 1943 by the USS Greenling and in February 1944 near Truk being attacked by aircraft from TF58. Ten crew were killed and the Soya temporarily grounded.[2]

As a supply vessel

After the war she served as a repatriation ship and then as a lighthouse supply ship. It was in this later role that she acquired the nick name the 'Santa Claus of the Sea'.[2]

As an Antarctic research vessel

File:Soya course to Antarctica.svg
The voyage of the Soya to Antarctica

In 1956 she was overhauled and modified to make her ready for Antarctic research. This involved re-engining with diesel engines and the installation of a helicopter deck and helicopters. Over the period 1956 to 1962 she made trips to the Antarctic. On the second trip, in 1958, she rescued the explorers from the first expedition who had become stranded at the Syowa research station. Unfortunately they had to leave the expedition's dogs behind. On Soya's return a year later, two of the dogs, Taro and Jiro (who are now famous in Japan) were found alive. The fame of these events was extended by the film of the events Nankyoku Monogatari (lit. "South Pole Story"; released in the U.S. as "Antarctica") and by Disney's adaption and Americanization in its film Eight Below.[2]

As an ice breaking rescue vessel

She then became an ice breaking rescue ship for the Maritime Safety Agency, based in Hokkaido.[2]

As a museum ship

She was decommissioned in 1978, and in 1979 became a permanent exhibition at the Museum of Maritime Science, Tokyo. [1][2][3]

File:Taro and Jiro.JPG
Taro and Jiro, the rescued dogs

Notes and references

  1. 1.0 1.1 http://www.funenokagakukan.or.jp/index_e.html
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 Hackett, Bob; Kingsepp, Sander and Cundall, Peter (2007). "IJN Soya: Tabular Record of Movement". combinedfleet.com. http://www.combinedfleet.com/Soya_t.htm. Retrieved 2009-02-13.  Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "comb" defined multiple times with different content
  3. http://www.funenokagakukan.or.jp/sc_01_en/soya_en.html

ja:宗谷 (船)