One of America’s 2 Icebreakers Is Falling Apart. Trump’s Wall Could Block Funding for a New One.
As climate change begins to open new areas to shipping, the need for new icebreakers has grown. But funding could get pushed back again.
The U.S. military’s only heavy icebreaker suffered more equipment breakdowns during its mission to Antarctica this season, adding urgency to the calls for Congress to approve long-delayed funding to replace the aging polar fleet.
As the icebreaker Polar Star led a supply mission to a research station in early January, its crew faced power outages that forced it to shut down the ship’s power plant and reboot the electrical system. Leaks forced the Coast Guard to send divers into the icy water to repair the seal around the propeller shaft. And one of two systems that provide drinking water for the crew also failed, the Coast Guard said.
In its previous trip to Antarctica, the crew scrambled to patch a leak in the engine room that at one point was pouring 20 gallons a minute into the compartment.
“If a catastrophic event, such as getting stuck in the ice, were to happen to the Healy in the Arctic or to the Polar Star near Antarctica, the U.S. Coast Guard is left without a self-rescue capability,” the Coast Guard said. Those are the military’s only icebreakers, and the Polar Star is 12 years past its life expectancy.
InsideClimate News reported late last year on the decades-long effort to build new icebreakers as a warming Arctic increases ship traffic and access to natural resources. Even as the ice melts, unpredictable floes can still trap ships. The opening of the Arctic has also emerged as a national security priority for the Navy. While Congress put off funding for new icebreakers year … after year, Russia built out a fleet of more than 40.
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