THE U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Star is ready to return to duty after a lengthy overhaul at Vigor Shipyards in Seattle.
This is good news on several fronts. As U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., noted, with increased marine traffic through the Arctic and increased energy exploration, “There is no question we need more icebreakers to protect our nation’s economic and national-security interests.”
The Polar Star returns to service after a four-year, $57 million renovation. The 399-foot, 75,000-horsepower icebreaker gives the Coast Guard a heavy-duty icebreaker.
The Polar Star joins the nation’s only operational icebreaker, the Healy, a Coast Guard cutter primarily designed for research.
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Last April the crew of the Healy received a commendation for escorting a Russian-flagged tanker through 300 miles of Bering Sea ice to Nome, Alaska, for an emergency-fuel delivery the previous January.
Cantwell and Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, worked to halt plans to dismantle the Polar Sea, the nation’s only other heavy-duty icebreaker, for parts.
The Polar Sea suffered major engine failure in 2010 and was headed toward decommissioning.
Now the Coast Guard must report back by September with a cost estimate for extending its service and the cost of other options.
The nation lacks the capacity to represent and protect its interests in the Arctic and Antarctica. The Coast Guard has the skills, but it needs the vessels to accomplish the job.