780 AM | 96.1 FM 


(907) 443-5221

USCG Cutter Polar Star Completes 12-Week Deployment in Bering Strait Region

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy is in the ice Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018, about 715 miles north of Barrow, Alaska.(NyxoLyno Cangemi/U.S. Coast Guard)
The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy is in the ice Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018, about 715 miles north of Barrow, Alaska.(NyxoLyno Cangemi/U.S. Coast Guard)

The US Coast Guard’s sole heavy icebreaker, Polar Star, recently broke the nation’s 40-year winter absence from icy waters above the Arctic Circle while on a 12-week deployment to the Bering Strait region.  

Back at the dock in Juneau, Capt. Bill Woityra, commander of the Polar Star, while speaking at last week’s University of Alaska Fairbanks-Northwest Campus’s “Strait Science” series, proclaimed the mission a success. He describes the three main objectives of their deployment.

“The first area of focus and the primary aim was to assert sovereignty over US territory in the Arctic. We were going to project power north of the Arctic Circle and send a message to the rest of the world that the US is an Arctic nation, that the US cares about the Arctic, and that the US will absolutely defend our territory and defend our sovereign resources in this region.”

– Capt. Bill Woityra

Given the nation’s increased geopolitical interest in the Bering Strait chokepoint and the fact that the institutional knowledge and skill set for navigating the Arctic winter is limited, Woityra says training personnel was also a key goal of the mission.

“Everybody is interested in this region, everybody recognizes the strategic importance of the Arctic and Alaska, and everyone is scrambling now to make sure they have a cadre of operators that are capable and ready to go up and carry out Coast Guard missions and other missions in this region.”

In addition to Polar Star’s strategic national security and Arctic training objectives, the icebreaker sailed north with scientists and researchers aboard to work in partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory (CRREL), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), University of Washington, and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) to gather data and lessen the void of information from the region and better understand how to operate year-round in Arctic waters. 

Post-deployment, Capt. Woityra confirms that the Coast Guard can safely operate in the Arctic. Polar Star’s winter Arctic deployment serves to better understand and prepare for the challenges of operating in such a remote and harsh environment.  

Over the last several years, government studies have recommended, and the Coast Guard has concurred, that the United States needs three heavy and three medium ice-strengthened icebreakers, or PSCs. This will ensure a persistent presence in the polar region. Construction of the first of those heavy cutters is already in progress, following the signing of a $746 million contract with Mississippi’s VT Halter Marine back in 2019. 

This replacement of Polar Star, an old ship with outdated systems onboard, should undergo sea trials by 2024 if current timetables hold.

So, when will Western Alaska see the Coast Guard again? As for year-round presence, Capt. Woityra assured the dozens in attendance over Zoom that the Coast Guard plans to continue its summer patrols business as usual later this year.

“We are going to be running the standard Arctic Shield playbook that we have run for the past few years, which includes a seasonal, scalable mobile presence. We are going to have helicopters, forward deployed for search and rescue. We are going to have small boat teams in the right places to make sure that we are going to be ready to respond if anything goes wrong.”

Polar Star is now headed to Vallejo, California, where it will be worked on to extend its life by another four years, maintaining the Coast Guard’s heavy icebreaking capabilities.

The project will extend the service life of the cutter by approximately four years, helping maintain the Coast Guard’s required heavy icebreaking capability while the service transitions heavy icebreaking operations to the new polar security cutter.

Image at top: A U.S. Coast Guard cutter navigating Arctic waters. Photo by NyxoLyno Cangemi/U.S. Coast Guard.

Did you enjoy this Climate & Environment/Science story?

Consider supporting our work by becoming a one-time or recurring donor.

Share this story


Recent Posts

FEMA Announces $108 Million Awarded to Merbok Related Projects

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Alaska Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Emergency Management announced the approval of $108.8 million for Alaskan communities reeling from 2022’s Typhoon Merbok. The storm’s 75 mph winds, relentless rain, and unusually high sea swells flooded communities across western Alaska. Following a

Read More »

Front Street Resurfacing Project Receives New Funding

The long-awaited resurfacing of Front Street in Nome continues to move forward, thanks in part to an additional $363,800 in funding from the State of Alaska’s 2025 budget. The project has been in the works since 2019 when the Department of Transportation (DOT) allocated $5.5 million in Community Transportation Project

Read More »

Local Athletes, Competitors Shine at WEIO 2024

Regional residents descended on Fairbanks last week to take part in WEIO 2024. The annual event that began in 1961 celebrates native sports and culture. Competitors from the Seward Peninsula and nearby region are bolded below.  Seal Skinning 1st Place: Casey Ferguson, Anchorage, 2 min 2.19 sec 2nd Place: Marjorie

Read More »

Sockeye Salmon Limit Lifted on Pilgrim River

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) has announced a waiver on annual per-household harvest limits for sockeye salmon on the Pilgrim River, effective 12:01 a.m. on Monday, July 15. Recent escapement projections indicate that the escapement goal for sockeye salmon at the Pilgrim River weir will be met,

Read More »



Work for Us:




(907) 443-5221 


(907) 868-1200 

Land Acknowledgement

We acknowledge that KNOM Radio Mission is located on the customary lands of Indigenous peoples. 

Based in the Bering Strait region, KNOM broadcasts throughout the homelands of the Iñupiaq, Siberian Yup’ik, Cup’ik and Yup’ik peoples.