The announcement on June 17 came from the US Navy Institute, which said the first of a planned fleet of three heavy icebreakers, called Polar Security Cutters, is expected to be delivered in 2023. The US Coast Guard’s only working heavy icebreaker, Polar Star, is based in Seattle. The Coast Guard also has one medium icebreaker.
“The Pacific Northwest has been the home of our icebreaking fleet since 1976, and I am confident that the Seattle area will continue to provide the support we need to carry out our critical operations in the polar regions” said Adm. Karl L. Schultz, commandant of the US Coast Guard. The icebreaker is to be constructed by VT Halter Marine at the company’s shipyard in Pascagoula, Miss.
The contract with Halter Marine also includes options for two more polar security cutters. If both options are exercised, the contract value of the three icebreakers increases to $1.9 billion, according to Coast Guard officials.
Icebreakers are sent by the Coast Guard each winter to Antarctica, to lead supply ships to McMurdo Sound to resupply the National Science Foundation’s research center. Then each summer the icebreakers perform similar missions to assist shipping off the coast of Alaska. The Coast Guard also maintains a presence in the U.S. portion of the Arctic to defend national interests in a region which is increasingly a focus for Russia and China.
Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., hailed the homeport decision, saying that “homeporting new icebreakers in Puget Sound shows the significant role Washington state has to play in securing our waters and protecting our environment in the Arctic. The Puget Sound region supports a cutting-edge maritime workforce, which is poised to meet the needs of these new world-class vessels,” she said.
Cantwell, the top Democrat on the US Senate Commerce Committee, successfully persuaded the Obama administration in 2016 to include new icebreaker funding in its fiscal year 2017 budget request. This year Cantwell also helped secure $655 million to design and build the first Coast Guard polar icebreaker in over four decades, plus $20 million to begin planning a second icebreaker.