September 27, 2006

U.S. Needs 2 New Icebreakers, Study Says

WASHINGTON (AP) - The United States should begin construction of two new heavy-duty icebreakers, the National Research Council said Tuesday.

There are currently four icebreakers in service but two of them, the Polar Sea and Polar Star, are near the end of their service lives and have experienced mechanical problems requiring extensive repair, according to the report requested by Congress.

Of the four icebreakers, those are the only two designed for heavy ice, the study says, so work should begin on replacements in order to protect U.S. interests in the Arctic and Antarctica.

The Polar Sea and Polar Star are operated by the Coast Guard.

The Research Council, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, noted that routine maintenance of the vessels has been deferred due to a lack of funds, and no major program to extend the life of the icebreakers has been planned.

The study added that a Russian icebreaker had to be hired to clear a channel in Antarctica the last two years so that supply ships could reach U.S. research stations there.

The report concluded that new and upgraded icebreakers are needed for the United States to "project an active and influential presence" in the Arctic and the Antarctic.

The Coast Guard's third icebreaker, the Healy, was designed for lighter-duty icebreaking than the Polar Sea and Polar Star and is primarily assigned to support Arctic research.

In addition, the National Science Foundation leases an "ice-strengthened" ship, the Palmer, for research in light ice near Antarctica.


National Research Council: