A contract for the first new Coast Guard icebreaker in two decades will be awarded this spring, with $675 million now committed by Congress to fully fund construction and buy long-lead time materials for a second polar ship, said Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz.

Giving his first annual ‘state of the Coast Guard’ address in Los Angeles, Schultz cited the recently completed Antarctica deployment of the Polar Star – the nation’s sole heavy icebreaker – as evidence of the dire need for a new class of  “polar security cutters.”

The Polar Star crew contended with serious breakdowns on their 1970s-vintage vessel, including electrical failures and a leaking propeller shaft seal during icebreaking operations that forced divers to go under and apply a patch as the engineering staff on board worked “immersed in 30-degree water,” Schultz recalled.

Meanwhile, “the Arctic landscape has changed, it has become much more competitive” with nations positioning to gain more access for shipping, fishing and mineral exploitation, said Schultz.

In his remarks Schultz stressed the Coast Guard’s expansion into “the cyber domain,” to build security for the U.S. marine transportation system.

“Cyber is the spinal cord of this vital system,” and the port of Los Angeles-Long Beach is the location for the Coast Guard first dedicated cybersecurity specialists, said Schultz.

Schultz spoke of the drive for “inclusivity” in the Coast Guard, including the “right and expectation to come to a safe workplace” and addressing disparities in in policies and practices that affect women and minority groups.

Results from a study initiated last year on how to better retain female members will be released next week, with steps soon to follow for acting on the findings, said Schultz.

The service is getting the new ships it has long needed – Los Angeles is getting four fast response cutters and will be homeport for two of the next offshore patrol cutters – but the operational budget has been virtually flat-lined for years creating other backlogs, the commandant said. The 2020 budget proposed by the Trump administration is responsive to the Coast Guard’s needs, but it still realistically should have a 5% annual increase in operating expenses, he said.

Contributing Editor Kirk Moore was a reporter for the Asbury Park Press for over 30 years before joining WorkBoat in 2015. He wrote several award-winning stories on marine, environmental, coastal and military issues that helped drive federal and state government policy changes. He has also been an editor for WorkBoat’s sister publication, National Fisherman, for over 25 years. Moore was awarded the Online News Association 2011 Knight Award for Public Service for the “Barnegat Bay Under Stress,” 2010 series that led to the New Jersey state government’s restoration plan. He lives in West Creek, N.J.