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Citing the need for increased American icebreaking capacity for both national security and marine commerce, U.S. Senator Mark Begich introduced legislation to prevent the decommissioning and scrapping of the Coast Guard heavy icebreaker Polar Sea.
The chair of the Commerce subcommittee on Oceans, Fisheries and the Coast Guard, Begich was joined by subcommittee past-chair Sen. Maria Cantwell (D – WA) in sponsoring the Preserve Our Large Arctic Response Capability Act or as the POLAR-C Act of 2011.
“At a time we are seeing unprecedented interest in the Arctic for energy development and marine transportation, our nation cannot afford to dispose of a valuable asset such as the Polar Sea,” Sen. Begich said. “With only one currently operational icebreaker, the recent High Latitude study found a major shortfall in our nation’s ability to operate in the rapidly changing Arctic and it makes no sense to decommission and scrap a perfectly serviceable vessel.”
“Before the U.S. Coast Guard spends scarce taxpayer dollars to decommission one of our nation’s two remaining heavy duty icebreakers, we must know that it is the most fiscally prudent way forward,” said Sen. Cantwell. “We may be able to save taxpayer dollars and improve national security by refurbishing existing vessels, instead of scrapping them. Legislation we authored in 2010 requires the Coast Guard evaluate the most cost-effective way to revitalize its aging icebreaker fleet. Until those results are reviewed by Congress, I cannot support the Coast Guard moving forward with decommissioning of the Polar Sea.”
The bill requires the release of the Coast Guard’s business case analysis of icebreaker needs required by last year’s Coast Guard authorization, and prevents the decommissioning and scrapping of the Seattle-based Polar Sea.
Noting a recent study which found the United States needs 6 to 10 icebreakers to fulfill statutory missions, Begich and Cantwell wrote USCG Commandant Admiral Robert Papp last month saying the lack of icebreaking capacity was unacceptable:
“While the Polar Sea has served beyond its expected service life and recently suffered engine failure, we also understand from Coast Guard and private sector engineers that the hull of the Polar Sea is still sound and may be worth hundreds of millions of dollars. We think it is premature to scrap this potentially valuable asset. Rebuilding the vessel based on that hull would be considerably less costly than building a replacement vessel from the keel up.”
Papp responded based on their preliminary analysis, the Coast Guard preferred building a new icebreaker. But with no clear plan to fund or construct a replacement to meet the nation’s icebreaker needs, Begich and Cantwell introduced their POLAR-C legislation last night to release that analysis and retain the Polar Sea in the meantime.
Source: Office of Senator Begich