The USCGC Polar Sea (WAGB-11)

U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Mark Begich (D-AK) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) have announced an agreement with the U.S. Coast Guard to postpone the scheduled scrapping of the icebreaking USCGC Polar Sea through the end of 2012.  The icebreaker, which is based in Seattle, was originally scheduled to be dry-docked and taken apart beginning today, Monday June 18th.

Scrapping Polar Sea would leave the United States with only one operational icebreaker, the Healy, which was designed primarily as a scientific research vessel and only has medium icebreaking capability. The second heavy duty icebreaker, Polar Star, is currently in Seattle being refitted after years of receiving routine maintenance in ‘caretaker’ status.

The Coast Guard needs a minimum of six heavy duty icebreakers and an additional four medium icebreakers to meet Coast Guard and Navy mission requirements, according to a recent Coast Guard study. The United States Navy has no icebreaking capability.

“We are glad the Coast Guard has agreed to postpone the scrapping of this valuable icebreaker,” Cantwell said. “This is good news for Washington shipbuilding jobs and for America’s icebreaking capability. The Polar Sea’s hull is still in sound condition. Postponing its scrapping allows the Administration and Congress more time to consider all options for fulfilling the nation’s critical icebreaking missions.”

“The Coast Guard has listened to our call to postpone the dry docking of the Polar Sea so we can continue to explore the most cost-effective measures to ensure the United States has adequate icebreaking capabilities,” said Senator Begich. “Rebuilding this valuable cutter would save taxpayer dollars, create jobs, and increase our ability to operate in the Arctic, and I look forward to continuing to discuss next steps in revitalizing the Polar Sea.”

“As an Arctic Nation, we need to proceed intelligently as opportunities open up in our northern waters,” said Senator Murkowski.“Dismantling critical components of the Polar Sea without a complete plan for its replacement and a year before Polar Star will be back in the water would not be the best course of action. While this may only be a six month respite for the Polar Sea, I will use this period to work through my role on the Appropriations Committee to make America’s icebreaking capacity a top priority.”

As the world saw this winter when the Healy cut a path through Arctic sea ice to the town of Nome, Alaska, icebreakers fill a unique and vital role in the nation’s safety, security and environmental operations at sea, Senator Cantwell urges in a press release.

“Vigor Industrial is proud to have serviced and maintained the Coast Guard Icebreakers for many years,” said Frank Foti, CEO of Vigor Industrial, which maintains the Polar Sea, Polar Star and the Healy. “We greatly respect and appreciate the commitment of Senator Cantwell to ensure that a viable and effective Coast Guard icebreaking capacity is maintained. As commerce and national security concerns grow throughout the Arctic region, it is essential that our nation has a strong and ready icebreaking fleet. We know Senator Cantwell understands that and we are grateful for her leadership and effectiveness in this area.”

Cantwell, Begich and Murkowski have all played a major roles in fighting for the preservation and upgrading of the U.S. icebreaker fleet.

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