Yesterday in Seattle, U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen announced a $62 million plan to refit the Polar Star, an old icebreaker. Originally commissioned in 1976, it’s one of the U.S.’ two Polar Class icebreakers. Russia, on the other hand, has 20 icebreakers. USCGC Polar Star can ram through 21 feet of ice, and one of its main accomplishments was opening up a path to research stations in Antarctica a few years ago. The ship will be rebuilt at Todd’s Shipyards in Seattle and will be ready for duty in 2013, to be used until 2020. The project is expected to generate 250 jobs locally, showing that increased activity in the circumpolar region can produce beneficial effects south of the Arctic Circle.
Admiral Allen said that the U.S. doesn’t yet have any plans to build a new icebreaker, which is estimated to cost upwards of $750 million. As quoted in a Seattle Times article, Allen said that the Coast Guard is just “trying to stabilize the fleet” and is restraining from commissioning new ships until “there has been a discussion ”about the future of the Arctic, the Antarctic and what kind of presence we want, and the future of icebreakers.'”
The future is clear for U.S. policy in the Arctic. A refitted icebreaker will boost the country’s presence in the region. We can thereby expect more American participation in scientific research, industrial activities, shipping, ecotourism, and of course, for the Coast Guard, safety at sea. Previously, Allen stated that icebreakers facilitate moving large amounts of people and supplies to difficult to reach areas – an ability the U.S. currently lacks. They give “you access, presence, command and control and the ability to coordinate operations across that entire mission set.”
“Icebreaker docked in Seattle to be refitted for duty,” Seattle Times
“Coast guard commandant cites urgent need for icebreakers,” Congress Daily