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Coast Guard won't dismantle Polar Sea as planned

Reauthorization signed by Obama requires Coast Guard to consider icebreaker's reactivation
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The Coast Guard is prohibited from dismantling the heavy icebreaker Polar Sea for the near future under the reauthorization that President Obama signed into law Dec. 20.

The Polar Sea was set to be used for parts by the end of 2012, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Robert Papp said as recently as Dec. 6.

An amendment in the reauthorization bill from Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) requires the Coast Guard to submit an analysis to Congress by September 2013 of the condition of the Polar Sea, a cost estimate of extending its service life, and a comparison to other options.

The Polar Sea is one of two heavy Coast Guard icebreakers; it suffered massive engine failure in 2010 and has been set for decommissioning since February 2011. Salvaging parts from the crippled ship was put on a last minute hold in June following the intervention of three senators from Washington and Alaska.

The Coast Guard's other heavy icebreaker, the Polar Star, is undergoing a $57 million refurbishment by Vigor Shipyards in Seattle, with a planned return to service in 2013.

"As commerce in the Arctic continues to increase, our nation's need for icebreakers will continue to grow," Cantwell said in a Dec. 13 press release.

If the Coast Guard determines that it is cost effective to reactivate the Polar Sea, it must provide Congress a plan to do so under the reauthorization.

If it determines otherwise, the Coast Guard can decommission the Polar Sea, but it will have to submit to Congress a strategy to maintain its polar icebreaking services until September 2022.

The reauthorization also prohibits the Coast Guard for now from changing the current homeport of either the Polar Sea or Polar Star.

For more:
- go to the text of H.R. 2838, the Coast Guard reauthorization bill
- go to Sen. Cantwell's press release

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