Coast Guard Icebreaker Polar Star ready for service: View of the Polar Star in the West Arctic during 1996 - USCG Photo by PA3 Andy DevilbissSenators Mark Begich of Alaska and Maria Cantwell of Washington made a point of announcing the Coast Guard Icebreaker Polar Star is ready for sea in an editorial dated April 19, 2013. The Polar Star was retrofitted at a cost of $57 million by Vigor Shipyards in Seattle. This 399-foot, 75,000 horsepower heavy icebreaker will prove to be a good compliment to the only other operational icebreaker in the United States, the Healy. The Healy is a lighter vessel, designed to support research missions.

In a press release, Senator Cantwell said of the Polar Star, “Icebreakers are critical to our national security and America’s interest in the Arctic. Today, after an overhaul by Vigor Shipyards in Seattle, the Polar Star is ready to return to sea – where it belongs. This is good news for the Northwest economy, as the Arctic becomes an increasingly important route for trade and commerce. And, refurbishing large icebreakers means hundreds of jobs for Washington state shipbuilders. This is a key first step, but we have a long way to go to meet America’s icebreaking needs. I’ll continue to work in the Senate to support more icebreakers and maritime jobs.”

As Chairman of the Senate Oceans Subcommittee, Senator Begich has made the availability of capable icebreakers a priority and has worked with Senator Cantwell to secure a fleet that will serve the country well into the future. Both Senators mentioned the work accomplished by the Healy in April of 2012 to escort a Russian tanker through ice to Nome, Alaska with a delivery of emergency fuel.

There is no doubt that climate change is opening up the Arctic to oil exploration, cargo traffic, cruise ship excursions and commercial fishing. As an Arctic nation, the United States sorely needs an able fleet of icebreakers to maintain safety and support commerce in the north. The Coast Guard has the ability to protect the Arctic, but will need able vessels to make this happen.

Copyright 2013 by Alan Sorum

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