Two congressmen are urging the U.S. Coast Guard to reactivate the icebreaker Polar Sea, arguing that it’s needed to protect national security, environmental and economic interests in the Arctic.
Putting the vessel back in service “could bridge the gap between permanent retirement of the Polar Star and the activation of a new icebreaker by 2022, giving our country at least two active heavy duty icebreakers during this period,” Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., and Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif., said in a letter sent to Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft in late June as Congress was considering Coast Guard reauthorization legislation.
The draft bill in the Senate funds the reactivation, while the House bill does not, and Zukunft’s support “could help make the case for funding as a conference agreement is worked out between the two houses,” the letter said.
At press time, Coast Guard spokesman Barry Lane said Zukunft would “review the letter once it is received.”
The 399'×83' Polar Sea, berthed at Seattle’s Pier 36, was put on inactive status in October 2011 after engine failure in 2010. Breathing new life into the vessel for another seven to 10 years of service would take about three years and cost about $100 million, according to Coast Guard testimony cited in a recent Congressional Research Service report on polar icebreaker modernization. New icebreakers can cost an estimated $1 billion each.
The Polar Sea’s sistership, the Polar Star and its 140-person crew, is back in service after a three-year $90 million overhaul at Seattle-based Vigor Shipyards. Both ships were built in the mid-1970s by Lockheed Shipbuilding in Seattle and their gas turbine engines could exert up to 75,000 hp though triple propellers and break up to 6' of ice at 3 knots.
The Coast Guard also has the Healy, a medium icebreaker designed mainly for scientific research. Built by Avondale Industries in Louisiana and commissioned in 2000, the 420'×82' cutter is powered by four diesel-electric power plants that develop 30,000 hp. It can break up to 4'6" of ice at 3 knots and up to 8' of ice by backing and ramming. — D.K. DuPont