Thursday, May 21, 2015

Bipartisan Icebreaker Construction Bill Introduced

By Mark Edward Nero

Two US senators said on May 19 that they’ve introduced legislation that would authorize the US Navy to build up to six icebreakers for use by the Coast Guard.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash. and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska authored the bill, known as the Icebreaker Recapitalization Act.

Under the legislation, the Coast Guard and Secretary of the Navy would, no later than six months after passage of the bill, be required to establish a process for the design and construction of the icebreakers, for use by the USCG.

The Coast Guard is the sole service responsible for icebreaking missions.

“Our legislation makes sure that the United States is able to protect our interests in the Arctic, and it gives the men and women in the Coast Guard and Navy the tools they need to do their jobs,” Cantwell said in a statement.

“From a military perspective, this is an imperative,” Murkowski said. “From an economic development viewpoint, it is a down-payment on an Arctic future. And as a scientific research opportunity, it opens up a new world of knowledge.”

Currently, the Coast Guard only has two operational icebreakers: Polar Star, a recently retrofitted heavy-duty vessel; and Healy, a medium-duty research vessel. A second heavy-duty icebreaker, the Polar Sea, is currently being considered for the scrap heap.

According to the Coast Guard High Latitude Study released to Congress in 2011, the United States needs six heavy duty and four medium icebreakers to meet the statutory and mission requirements of the Coast Guard and the Navy.

Any new icebreakers are estimated to cost over $1 billion each to build. Under the Cantwell-Murkowski bill, Congress would have to include funds in future spending bills to pay for the vessels.