“Icebreakers are critical to our national security and America’s interest in the Arctic,” Cantwell said. “Today, after an overhaul by Vigor Shipyards in Seattle, the Polar Star is ready to return to sea – where it belongs. This is good news for the Northwest economy, as the Arctic becomes an increasingly important route for trade and commerce. And, refurbishing large icebreakers means hundreds of jobs for Washington state shipbuilders. This is a key first step, but we have a long way to go to meet America’s icebreaking needs. I’ll continue to work in the Senate to support more icebreakers and maritime jobs.”
Begich and Cantwell have been vocal about the need for multiple icebreakers to increase the nation’s ability to maintain a presence in the fast-changing Arctic. America’s only other icebreaker, the Healy, was designed as a scientific research vessel and only has medium icebreaking capability. The need for icebreaking capacity was highlighted last year by the Healy’s assistance in refueling the ice-bound city of Nome during the dead of winter.
Language inserted by the two senators into the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2012 prevents the decommissioning and scrapping of the Polar Star’s currently inactive sister ship Polar Sea until a business case analysis is completed. The analysis evaluates the reactivation and extension of service life through 2022. The need to maintain icebreaking capabilities and to fulfill the Coast Guard’s icebreaking needs was identified in the 2010 High Latitude Study.