Senators Lisa Murkowski, Mark Begich and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) have reached an agreement with the U.S. Coast Guard to postpone the scrapping of the Polar Sea through the end of 2012 -- scheduled to begin within days, on Monday. The agreement was reached during a meeting of the Senators and the Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, Admiral Robert Papp, Jr.
The icebreaker, based in Seattle, had been scheduled to be dry-docked and taken apart beginning Monday. This process would have ripped out the vessel's hubs and sealed off major portions of the vessel -- a key step toward final destruction of the icebreaker.
"As an Arctic Nation, we need to proceed intelligently as opportunities open up in our northern waters," said Senator Murkowski. "Dismantling critical components of the Polar Sea without a complete plan for its replacement -- a year before Polar Star will be back in the water -- would not be the best course of action. While this may only be a six month respite for the Polar Sea, I will use this period to work through my role on the Appropriations Committee to make America's icebreaking capacity a top priority."
"The Coast Guard has listened to our call to postpone the dry docking of the Polar Sea so we can continue to explore the most cost-effective measures to ensure the United States has adequate icebreaking capabilities," said Senator Begich. "Rebuilding this valuable cutter would save taxpayer dollars, create jobs, and increase our ability to operate in the Arctic, and I look forward to continuing to discuss next steps in revitalizing the Polar Sea."
"We are glad the Coast Guard has agreed to postpone the scrapping of this valuable icebreaker," said Cantwell. "This is good news for Washington shipbuilding jobs and for America's icebreaking capability. The Polar Sea's hull is still in sound condition. Postponing its scrapping allows the Administration and Congress more time to consider all options for fulfilling the nation's critical icebreaking missions."
Scrapping Polar Sea would leave the United States 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 of receiving routine maintenance in "caretaker' status.