Sullivan calls for speeded up timeframe for new icebreakers

U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan says 10 years is too long to wait for a new icebreaker in the Arctic.

As melting sea ice has opened up new pathways in the Arctic, many countries have sought to develop new strategies and amp up investments for commerce and national defense. This includes the acquisition of icebreakers, ships used to break ice and create pathways for other vessels.

The United States has two active icebreakers: the Coast Guard cutters Healy and Polar Star. Of these, only the Polar Star is capable of year-round Arctic access. The Coast Guard expects the Polar Star, now about 40 years old, to remain in commission only about seven more years.

In comparison, Russia possesses 40 active icebreakers, with more likely on the way.

"The Department of Defense, and they even admit it, has just essentially been very, very behind the curve on what's going on in the Arctic in terms of transportation, in terms of resources, in terms of what the Russians are doing in the Arctic," said Sullivan, who serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee. "We're playing catch-up."

President Barack Obama called for a $150 investment for design and development of a new icebreaker in his proposed 2017 budget.

In total, an icebreaker is estimated to cost about $1 billion with construction taking up to 10 years.

"It shouldn't be 10 years, in my view," Sullivan said. "I've never understood why an icebreaker takes 10 years. This is not rocket science."

In the meantime, Sullivan has co-sponsored a bill with Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, both Democrats from Washington state, that they hope will cut the wait for getting another active icebreaker into the water. The Coast Guard Icebreaker Recapitalization Act, calls for $150 million to refurbish the Polar Sea, which was decommissioned in 2011 after engine failure.

Sullivan said he also supports looking into leasing an icebreaker from the private sector, but he has not yet proposed such legislation.

"I think we're making progress but not nearly as much as we need to be, particularly given what other countries are doing," he said. "There are several other countries who aren't arctic nations that have more icebreakers than we do."

This article originally appeared in the Kodiak Daily Mirror, and is republished here with permission.?