AD Header Dropdowns

AD Main Menu

Begich, Murkowski buy more time for ill-fated US icebreaker

Alex DeMarban

The U.S. Coast Guard on Friday gave a six-month stay of execution to the Polar Sea, one of only three icebreakers owned by the U.S. government, Alaska's senators said in a written statement.

The scrapping of the ship, previously set for Monday, is postponed until year's end, according to an agreement involving the Coast Guard and Alaska Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich, and Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington.

The promise followed a meeting with Admiral Robert Papp, Jr., Coast Guard commandant, a written statement from the senators said.

The senators, along with Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, have fought to boost the nation's hobbled icebreaking force, as climate change and melting ice increase maritime traffic and resource-extraction efforts in the Far North.

Young has tried to save the 400-foot-long Polar Sea by introducing a bill requiring that the Coast Guard gauge whether private companies want to operate it.   

While other countries are boosting their Arctic naval forces, the U.S. operates only one active icebreaker, the 420-foot Healy, a medium-duty ship home-ported in Seattle.

The two U.S. heavy-duty icebreakers capable of powering through thicker sea ice, including the Polar Sea, have long been out of commission. The also-disabled Polar Star is being refitted and is set to return to service in a year, the statement said.

Cantwell said the ship's hull remains in good shape, and that refurbishing it would create jobs in her state of Washington.

Murkowski said she plans to keep working on a solution to boost the country's icebreaking ability. Begich said he'll work to see the Polar Sea refurbished and back in action.

“Rebuilding this valuable cutter would save taxpayer dollars, create jobs, and increase our ability to operate in the Arctic," he said. 

Contact Alex DeMarban at alex(at)alaskadispatch.com