Polar Sea scrapping put on hold
A last minute reprieve will prevent, for now, a disabled Coast Guard heavy icebreaker from being cut up for parts and scrapped for metal, announced Sen. Maria Cantwell's office in a June 15 statement.
The Polar Sea, one of the Coast Guard's two heavy icebreakers, suffered massive engine failure in 2010 and has been set for decommissioning since February 2011. The 399-foot ship was set to be dry-docked June 18 to have major portions of its interior sealed off and its propellers removed, Cantwell (D-Wash.) said. 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.
According to Cantwell's announcement, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Robert Papp agreed during a June 14 meeting with her and Sens. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) to postpone the ship's scrapping through the end of 2012.
"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," Cantwell said. The ship's hull plates are 1.75 inches thick in the bow and stern sections and 1.25 inches thick in the amidships section, according (.pdf) to the Coast Guard, which also says its heavy icebreakers can navigate through solid ice up to six feet thick at a constant speed of three knots, and to break through up to 21 feet of ice.
Both of the Coast Guard's heavy icebreakers were commissioned into service in the second half of the 1970s and have exceeded their originally-intended 30-year service life. New heavy icebreakers are expensive--as much as $1 billion and likely at least $852 million--but the service has been unable to get funding for new Polar Sea engines and Papp has also said he doesn't have the money to operate the icebreaker.
"I think it's much more expensive to reactivate it than some people are giving in terms of estimates," Papp told a March 7, 2012 hearing of the House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee on the Coast Guard and maritime transportation.
During a Dec. 1, 2011 hearing of the same subcommittee, David Whitcomb, Vigor Industrial's chief operating officer, said a "rough estimate" of the icebreaker's reactivation added up (.pdf) to $11 million. Not included in his estimate was the purchase of new cranes, only their installation; Whitcomb said the service has already bought new cranes for both the Polar Star and Polar Sea.
- go to the Cantwell announcement