Courtesy of the new Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2017, Alaska’s icebreaker Polar Star may receive an extended life.
The potential legislation provides appropriations for the Coast Guard’s budget. Most prominently, it grants an amendment requiring a plan to extend the lifespan of Alaska’s only year-round ice breaker.
The Polar Star was commissioned in 1976 and has outlived its sister ship the Polar Sea, which was decommissioned in 2010. The heavy-class icebreaker in the Coast Guard fleet is joined by its smaller counterpart, the Healy. As a medium-sized breaker, the Healy can break ice just over 4 feet thick but is used mostly for scientific fact-gathering missions.
In the Bering Strait, and in Nome, Harbor Master Lucas Stotts says icebreakers like Polar Star are rarely seen. “Currently, we do not see much U.S. icebreaker traffic in this area. The Healy has come by occasionally in the past to and from their other scientific missions they are doing, but we do not see them regularly in this part of the country.”
But with shipping and cruise line traffic increasing, Stotts says that might change.
“I think a lot of people would agree the need for more icebreakers in this region, or at least more patrol cutters in the summer season is greatly needed. It’s just a matter of getting those assets to this part of Alaska.”
Stott’s sentiments were echoed by the Coast Guard, as well. According to the US Naval Institute, last month the Coast Guard continued their call for 3 more heavy icebreakers and 2 medium breakers.
The Authorization Act has been sponsored by Senator Dan Sullivan and awaits the approval of the US House and Senate.
Image above: The U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Healy escorts the Russian tanker Renda to Nome, Alaska, January 2012. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis.