The USCGC Polar Star, the main heavy-duty icebreaker of the United States Coast Guard, sailed from Seattle, Washington, toward Antarctica on its yearly trip to McMurdo Sound.
The ship, which was put into service in 1976, is essential to Operation Deep Freeze since it helps replenish the American Antarctic stations run by the National Science Foundation.
Lockheed Shipbuilding constructed the 399-foot, 13,500-ton heavy polar icebreaker Polar Star in collaboration with her sister ship, Polar Sea, which is currently decommissioned.
It is the most powerful vehicle in the USCG fleet, with three aviation-grade gas turbines producing a whopping 75,000 horsepower.
Every year, the Polar Star makes the challenging trek to McMurdo Station, slicing through 21 feet of ice. The 20,000 nautical mile icebreaking expedition is necessary to allow supply ships to dock at McMurdo Station, Antarctica’s largest U.S. research outpost.
But as time passes, the deteriorating Polar Star becomes more challenging to maintain, necessitating lengthy yearly shipyard stays.
The 46-year-old ship has experienced flooding, fires, and failures on recent Antarctic expeditions.
In light of growing geopolitical competition in the Arctic and the need to address deteriorating concerns with the Polar Star, the Coast Guard has obtained congressional funding for the Polar Security Cutter (PSC) program.
This program seeks to revive the icebreaker fleet with designs for a third hull already underway and the first two wholly funded.
Halter Marine was awarded a $2 billion construction contract for the PSC program in 2019, although the program has yet to advance as planned due to COVID-19-related delays. Although building has yet to start, Halter Marine’s profitability and possible underbidding remain a concern.
The PSC program’s schedule is called into question by recent events, such as the sale of Halter Marine and a related repair yard to Bollinger Shipyards.
The $15 million deal reflects financial challenges and could affect how the replacement icebreakers are built.
The USCG is considering other icebreaking mission options, such as buying a secondhand commercial icebreaker if the PSC program experiences more delays.
The Coast Guard has been able to use the Edison Chouest-owned Aiviq as a recurring candidate since 2016. The FY2023 budget details a plan for this contingency.
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