I previously wrote a story about the USCGC Icebreaker Polar Star having its annual mission to break the ice around McMurdo Sound in Antarctica changed to a tour of the Arctic this year, due to the Covid pandemic. Part of that story was about our lack of Icebreaker assets. Things are about to change in that area.
On Dec. 15, 2020, Congress passed the Coast Guard Reauthorization Act as part of the National Defense Authorization Act. It provides funding for fiscal year 2021 that includes monies for building more icebreakers for the Coast Guard. This is a very important moment for the United States Coast Guard in that it will be more able to cover and patrol the Arctic interests of the United States of America as an Arctic nation.
Russia currently has a fleet of 53 Icebreakers of both heavy and medium weight. Canada has 7 Icebreakers in its fleet. The United States presently has 2, with only one in operational order, the Polar Star, which is a heavy weight Icebreaker and is currently on its mission in the Arctic. The other is the USCGC Healy. It suffered a fire and is under repair.
This Reauthorization Act will make it possible to start building more Icebreakers for the USCG. There is one Icebreaker currently under construction at this time. As you will see in the video attached, the hope is that the Coast Guard will build more Coast Guard Cutters that can also break ice.
Many may wonder about the necessity for Icebreakers, but when you realize that the three largest nations with Arctic borders are Russia, Canada and the United States, you can begin to see that there really is a strategic as well as an economic importance to the safety and security of Arctic waters. The United States has a huge interest in protecting the Arctic for both economic and strategic reasons. The United States Coast Guard has the primary role in that mission.
The Coast Guard Reauthorization Act was coauthored by Republican Senators, Dan Sullivan of Alaska and Roger Wicker of Mississippi and Democrat Senator, Maria Cantwell of Washington State. All have good reasons for coauthoring the Act. Sen. Sullivan represents the state that has our Arctic border. Sen. Wicker represents the state where the Icebreakers will be built and Sen. Cantwell, represents the state that is the home port (Seattle) for the USCG Icebreaker fleet.
Sen. Sullivan said of the Act that it was , “for recognizing the importance of the Arctic, and for supporting the vessels and infrastructure that are needed to realize America’s role as an Arctic nation.”
Alaska makes us an Arctic nation with real interests in maintaining its security, its fishing industry and commercial value. This is a move in the right direction for the United States Coast Guard. It will be able to continue its efforts in Antarctica and now be able to pursue its mission in the Arctic at the same time.
The Polar Star is an aging icebreaker at this time. Its sister ship the Polar Sea is out of commission and is basically serving as a source for spare parts. The need is so great that the government is considering leasing a medium weight icebreaker from a private company in order to meet the growing requirements in the Arctic until the new USCGC Icebreakers can join the fleet.
Learn more in the video below.
This authorization passed by Congress will make the United States Coast Guard’s icebreaker capacities much more agile and present. It will be in line with the Coast Guard’s motto, “Semper Paratus!” Always Ready! The USCG will be ready to protect and manage our interests in the Arctic as one of its major missions. Semper Paratus, Coasties! Fair Winds!Whizzco