Bollinger Shipyards LLC recently began cutting steel at Bollinger Mississippi Shipbuilding, Pascagoula, Miss., on the first of eight prototype modules that will become the foundation of the first U.S. Coast Guard polar security cutter (PSC), Polar Sentinel (PSC-1) — the first heavy icebreaker to be built in the U.S. in 50 years.
In 2019, the Navy awarded VT Halter Marine a $746 million contract for the design and construction of the 460'x88' Coast Guard PSC. The PSC program is a multiple year initiative to acquire up to three multimission PSCs to recapitalize the Coast Guard’s fleet of heavy icebreakers. The contract value, if all options are exercised, would be $1.9 billion. The first PSC is scheduled for delivery in 2014, the second in 2025, and the final cutter in early 2027.
Bollinger purchased VT Halter Marine last year. The PSC contract was part of the deal.
The Coast Guard requires polar icebreaking capability to support the country’s economic, commercial, maritime and national security needs in the polar regions. The new PSCs will be national assets that will ensure access to both polar regions and be capable of executing key Coast Guard missions, including defense readiness; marine environmental protection; ports, waterways and coastal security; and search and rescue. The ships will operate worldwide and face the range of extreme environmental conditions found in the polar, tropical and temperate regions.
The hull of a heavy polar icebreaker is required to be much thicker than other Coast Guard cutters because of the pressure exerted on the ship by the surrounding ice. Therefore, before the full construction process on the PSC program begins, the prototype modules test the new systems, processes, people, and tools that are required to work with the specialized steel. The lessons learned from building the prototype module will be used to help ensure design completeness and improve the quality and efficiency of the manufacturing process.
“After over 50 years, we're back to building heavy icebreakers," Ben Bordelon, president and CEO of Bollinger Shipyards, said in a statement. "Beginning work on the first prototype fabrication assembly unit is an important step closer toward commencing construction on the first polar security cutter. This isn't just an important milestone for our company, it's also an important step for our national defense. Simply put, the United States is back in the icebreaker business."
Each module requires approximately four months of labor, during which time Bollinger will continue recruiting and training additional members of the workforce to manage the transition to production of the lead hull as the prototype modules are completed.
“We’re relearning how to build this type of ship,” said PSC program manager, Capt. Eric Drey. “It’s the first heavy icebreaker built by our nation in 50 years.”
The Coast Guard’s operational polar icebreaking fleet currently consists of one heavy icebreaker, the 399' Coast Guard cutter Polar Star that was commissioned in 1976, and one medium icebreaker, the 420’ Coast Guard cutter Healy, commissioned in 1999.