The US Coast Guard’s only long-range icebreaker, the Polar Star, would typically head to the Antarctic to help with the resupply of the McMurdo Station.
However this year’s resupply mission is cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. So this year, the ship will be heading to the opposite end of the world – the Arctic Ocean.
This will be the first time since 1994 that a US Polar-class icebreaker will head to the Arctic on a non-science mission.
The Polar Star will be working in the Arctic to protect the United States’ “maritime sovereignty and security in the region.”
According to Vice Admiral Linda Fagan, the US Coast Guard Pacific Area commander, the Arctic is no longer considered a frontier and is instead thought of as an area of growing importance to the US. Fagan said that the US Coast Guard “is committed” to the protection of US sovereignty in the area and also to cooperating with others to protect the maritime rules of the Arctic.
In 1994, the Polar Sea became one of the first two US surface ships to reach the North Pole.
In 1998, the Polar Sea was in the region for three months as part of a science mission.
In 2009, the Polar Sea again spent three months in the Arctic on another science mission.
This time though, the Polar Star will be in the region for national security purposes and for national sovereignty in the region.
The Polar Star was last in the Arctic in 2013 for sea trials after receiving a $57 million overhaul.
Russia, the largest Arctic nation, and China have both been increasing their activity in the region and seeking to expand their influence there. The US is looking to retain its own authority in the Arctic.
Keeping a presence in the Arctic hasn’t been easy for the Coast Guard lately. Their fleet of icebreakers was already insufficient but there have been losses which have reduced their numbers even further. New ships are not expected for another few years.
The medium icebreaker, the Healy Coast Guard, experienced a crippling fire in one of the main propulsion motors. The ship was able to limp back to port in Washington under its own power. The ship was originally heading to the Arctic for a deployment that was to last until October.
The Polar Star has not been exempt from its own problems. Last year, it had its own engine fire which damaged the garbage incinerator housing and the effort to contain the fire caused damage to the electrical system. The ship is in good shape this year after receiving a few repairs and is scheduled to head to the Arctic in December.
The resupply for McMurdo this year will use aircraft.
Another Article From Us: 100 year old ‘Flying Tiger’ Harry Moyer Still Flies Every Week
The Navy and Coast Guard gave a $749.5 million contract to VT Halter Marine in Pascagoula, Mississippi, for the first of three new heavy icebreakers which are known as Polar Security Cutters. Construction on the new ship should begin next year.