Today, U.S. Senators Mark Begich (D-AK) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) applauded the Coast Guard's award of the Coast Guard Unit Commendation award to the crew of the Healy icebreaker.
According to the Coast Guard, this award is presented by the Commandant to a Coast Guard unit that distinguished itself by valorous or extremely meritorious service in support of Coast Guard operations. The Healy was nearing the end of an eight-month deployment when it was summoned in January to help break through the frozen Bering Sea to help a Russian tanker deliver fuel to Nome, Alaska.
"Washington state and Alaska owe a debt of gratitude to the heroism and service of the Seattle-based Healy crew," Cantwell said. "The Nome emergency fuel delivery was just one of many important missions with which the crew was involved. The Healy and its crew exemplify the critical importance of icebreakers to America's security as well as our interests in the Arctic. That is why we are fighting to save the Polar Sea while the Administration considers options for fulfilling the nation's critical icebreaking missions."
"The crew of the Healy went well above and beyond the call of duty when they supported the emergency fuel delivery to Nome this winter," Begich said. "Not only did they play a key role in this effort, they did so with an incredible attitude of optimism and a dedication to seeing the mission to the end. I am pleased to add my congratulations to a job well done, and I look forward to continuing the conversation about the need for more icebreakers in the U.S. fleet."
Senators Cantwell and Begich have introduced legislation that would preserve America's existing icebreaking capabilities by preventing the decommissioning and scrapping of the Coast Guard heavy duty icebreaker Polar Sea, which is not currently capable of icebreaking missions. The Coast Guard's icebreakers are critical to protecting American national security and economic interests in the Arctic.
Decommissioning Polar Sea would leave the U.S. with only one operational icebreaker, the Healy, which was designed primarily as a scientific research vessel and only has medium icebreaking capability. The second heavy duty icebreaker, Polar Star, is currently in Seattle being refitted after years in "caretaker' status, when the vessel is out of active service but still receives routine upkeep and maintenance. The United States Navy has no icebreaking capability.
The polar ice caps are melting at an alarming rate, opening new passageways through the Arctic ice and creating new opportunity for commerce, which creates national security, law enforcement and maritime safety concerns. Additionally, emerging environmental protection concerns, potential resource development and scientific research critical to understanding global climate change require vessels capable of polar operations. Historically, these vessels have also helped resupply the McMurdo Station, the main U.S. station in Antarctica on the southern tip of Ross Island in Antarctica, but over the last few years the U.S. has been forced to contract foreign icebreaking to fulfill this national need.