New Heavy Icebreaker is Hardly To Be In the US Coast Guard Operation Until 2028


Photo: Artist’s Rendering of Coast Guard Polar Security Cutter

The US Naval Institute reports that Coast Guard's plan to build three heavy icebreakers by summer 2024 is five years behind schedule, and the price has risen to $5.1 billion from an initial estimate of less than $2 billion. At a congressional hearing, Shelby Oakley of the Government Accountability Office said the design of the vessel was not completed. In May 2024, the project was 67% complete, although work on it began in 2019. The auditor cited the lack of industrial potential and experience in building heavy icebreakers at American shipyards, which launched the last icebreaker 50 years ago, as the reasons for the delay in the implementation of the project.

Coast Guard spokesman Vice Adm. Paul Thomas blamed the delays in building the three-icebreaker series on the original contractor. At a congressional subcommittee hearing, he said that although the Coast Guard did not provide the contractor with the design, it offered the Finnish icebreaker as a model. Instead, the contractor chose a German ice-class research vessel design that was never translated into metal, which led to numerous changes to the design.

The polar icebreakers would be used in the Arctic and Antarctic. Alaska’s U.S. senators have argued for years that they are vital for search and rescue, fishing enforcement and to assert a U.S. presence in the Arctic. America’s lack of Arctic icebreakers puts the country at a geopolitical disadvantage as Russia and China beef up their fleets and their presence in the region.

As a temporary measure pending the project's implementation, Congress this year allocated $125 million to purchase the private icebreaking tugboat Aiviq, which will be delivered to Juneau, Alaska. The Coast Guard said in March 2024 that the tug could be ready for use in 18 months, but it could take up to seven years to become fully operational. The Aiviq can break ice one meter thick at a continuous speed of five knots. Currently built in 2011 to support offshore drilling in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas by Royal Dutch Shell, at the moment the vessel supports Australia's Antarctic operations and is moored off Hobart on the island of Tasmania.

Source: Alaska Public Media, Forbes