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Papp: Polar Sea set for dismantling this month - UPDATED

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Updated Dec. 7 to reflect that the status of the Polar Sea's hull hasn't been determined; as a result, the Coast Guard says the word "dismantling," rather than "scrapping" is more accurate. Also revised to include a later statement from Adm. Papp that disposition of the heavy icebreaker is under review following House passage of a bill that would place conditions on the dismantling of the ship.

The Coast Guard heavy icebreaker Polar Sea is set to be used for parts by the end of this year, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Robert Papp said Dec. 6.

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.

"Postponing its scrapping allows the administration and Congress more time to consider all options," Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash) said at the time.

But, following remarks at a Navy League morning event in Pentagon City, Va., Papp said the Coast Guard has "no money in the budget to keep [the Polar Sea] around, so my instructions, my orders are to press forward" with the decommissioning by the end of December.

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. The Coast Guard requested $8 million in its fiscal 2013 budget request to begin acquisition of a new icebreaker, which could cost as much as $1 billion.

"We would like to take parts from the Polar Sea and use them in the refurbishment and sustainment of Polar Star. Obviously there are a lot of things in Polar Star, Polar Sea, that aren't made anymore," Papp said.

A Coast Guard spokesman later said on Dec. 7 that no decision has been made regarding the Polar Sea's hull, and that in the past, Coast Guard ships have remained moored with their hulls intact for years after decommissioning. He also noted that a Coast Guard reauthorization bill approved Dec.5 by the House (H.R. 2838) contains a provision that would prohibit the Coast Guard from decommissioning, transferring, or shifting the homeport of the Polar Sea until a number of conditions are met. "Final disposition of the cutter is in review pending legislation," Papp said in a statement forwarded by the spokesman.

During his talk, Papp said the service is close to finalizing an Arctic strategy that will guide future budget requests. The service deployed operationally for the first time to the Arctic for an extended period of time this past summer. It did so without much landside infrastructure, Papp said--adding that will likely be the case in the near future. "The Coast Guard does not have the money to start building shoreside infrastructure," he said.

The National Security Cutters that are part of the ongoing Coast Guard recapitalization effort sufficiently enabled the service to operate in the Arctic, he said. "It is a floating operations center that can also deploy forces," he said.

The Coast Guard should receive the money it needs to complete its recapitalization program of record, he said. The Coast Guard's fiscal 2013 budget request includes a $683 million proposal to fully fund construction of the sixth NSC, but says that subsequent-year procurement funding for the 4,550 long-ton displacement ships would drop to zero. There are eight NSCs in the recapitalization program of record.

"The program of record remains eight, and that's what I'm focused on right now," Papp said after his talk.

For more:
- listen to Papp's Dec. 6 Navy League talk

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