By Andreas Kuersten
The Arctic Journal
The United States is one of five countries with an Arctic coastline and continental shelf. As such, it is both burdened with direct responsibility for this region and blessed with the benefits it brings. But in order to meet its responsibilities or realise any benefits, America must maintain the ability to act effectively in the North.
Icebreakers are key to doing this. Unfortunately, there are two things that are immediately striking about America’s polar icebreaker fleet: its size and its age.
Currently, America maintains a fleet of three polar-class icebreakers: two heavy (the Polar Star and the Polar Sea) and one medium (theHealy). The Polar Sea, however, suffered severe engine trouble in 2010 and has been inactive ever since. (Washington also leases a fourth icebreaker, the Nathaniel B. Palmer, from a private company, but this is a light icebreaker that is used exclusively for scientific missions.)
The Polar Star and Polar Sea were built in 1976 and 1978, respectively. They were designed to stay in service for 30 years and are, therefore, beyond their intended lifespans. The Polar Star was refurbished in 2012, giving it between seven and 10 additional years of service. The Healy, for its part, was commissioned in 2000 and also has a 30-year lifespan. As a result, if nothing is done, sometime between 2019 and 2022, America will be reduced to a single functioning polar-class icebreaker.
This will be five fewer than was recommended in 2013 by the Coast Guard, which maintains operational and fiscal responsibility for US icebreaking, and the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees coast-guard operations. Their report on the matter found that as many as three heavy and three medium icebreakers will be required.
Picture: Coast Guard News (CGC Healy Uploaded by High Contrast) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons