Cummings: Coast Guard needs more icebreaking capacity

The following is the text of a press release issued July 17 by U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md.:
(WASHINGTON) — Today, Congressman Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, released the statement below following a hearing he convened yesterday to consider the United States’ icebreaking mission needs – both domestically and in the Polar Regions – as well as the resources available to meet these needs:
“I am deeply concerned by the decline in icebreaking capabilities the United States has experienced,” Congressman Cummings said.  “Even as continuing climate change reduces the ice packs at the Polar Regions, the Coast Guard now has less polar icebreaking capacity than at any time since World War II.  Similarly, the majority of the vessels used to conduct domestic icebreaking operations are reaching the end of their useful lives.”
The Coast Guard currently has three icebreakers, including the Polar Star, the Polar Sea, and the Healy.  The Polar Star has been placed in a caretaker status.  Due to its advancing age, the Polar Sea may be highly limited in its ability to meet our nation’s heavy icebreaking needs.  Further, the Healy, while a much newer ship, does not offer the heavy icebreaking capacity of the Polar Star and the Polar Sea.
“I believe we need to take immediate steps to sustain our polar icebreaking capacity – including developing a long-range plan that identifies the assets needed to enable us to protect our national interests in the polar region,” Congressman Cummings continued.  “We must also assess the specific capabilities new icebreakers should be built to serve – including whether research needs should continue to be supported with ships that also serve military purposes.  Further, we should assess the costs and benefits of establishing a service life extension program for the Polar Star and the Polar Sea to enable them to operate safely for an additional 10 to 15 years.”
Congressman Cummings urged the Bush Administration to release the Arctic policy study it is currently conducting as soon as possible in order to accelerate the development of a comprehensive national policy on our icebreaking missions and to identify the resources needed to ensure the effective and efficient completion of those missions.  Further, to ensure that critical shipments of coal and raw materials can transit the Great Lakes even in ice season, Congressman Cummings stressed that the Coast Guard must be fully prepared to provide all needed icebreaking services and resources on Lakes.
“The Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation’s urgent priority is ensuring that the Coast Guard is equipped for all of its missions – and is able to protect all of our national interests,” Congressman Cummings said. “As with any entity, where the links in a chain are weakest, the chain is most likely to break.  We as a nation simply can and must do better to ensure that there are no weak links in our Coast Guard.”
By Professional Mariner Staff