Icebreaker POLAR SEA sidelined by engine troubles

Today, the Coast Guard announced the 399-foot Cutter POLAR SEA suffered an unexpected engine casualty and will be unable to deploy on its scheduled fall 2010 Arctic patrol and may be unavailable for Operation Deep Freeze, Dec. 20 to Jan 2, 2011.

ARCTIC OCEAN – The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Sea, homeported in Seattle, breaking ice in the Northern Arctic ocean in support of various scientific research projects, Oct. 8, 2009. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Pamela J. Manns

POLAR SEA will likely be in a maintenance status and unavailable for operation until at least January 2011.

POLAR STAR, the Coast Guard’s other heavy icebreaker commissioned in 1976, is currently in the process of being reactivated, but will not be operational for deployment until 2013. The cutter was placed in a caretaker status in 2006.

POLAR SEA was commissioned into service in 1978 with a 30 year service life. In 2006 the Coast Guard completed a rehabilitation project that extended its service life to 2014.

ANTARCTICA – The Polar Sea is in Antarctica as part of Operation Deep Freeze 2007, clearing a navigable channel for supply ships to get needed goods and equipment to personnel working at McMurdo Station. USCG photo by PA2 Kevin J. Neff

Currently, the 420-foot CGC HEALY, commissioned in 1999, is the service’s sole operational polar region icebreaker. While the HEALY is capable of supporting a wide range of Coast Guard missions in the polar regions, it is a medium icebreaker capable of breaking ice up to 4.5-feet thick at three knots.

The impact on POLAR SEA‘s scheduled 2011 Arctic winter science deployment, scheduled for Jan. 3 to Feb. 23, 2011, is not yet known and depends on the scope of required engine repair.

MCMURDO SOUND, Antarctica – During Operation Deep Freeze 2002, both the 399-ft. Polar Star (WAGB-10) and its sister ship Polar Sea (WAGB-11) jointly broke an ice path to create an access channel for supply ships in McMurdo Sound. U.S. COAST GUARD PHOTO

Use the following links for more information on the Coast Guard’s role in the Arctic:

*Title 14, U.S. Code, Section 2, primary duties of the U.S. Coast Guard

*Listen to a Blogger’s Roundtable discussion with Adm. Thad W. Allen, on how the increasingly accessible and active Arctic region has significant security, environmental, scientific, and economic challenges with broad implications for the nation.

*Admiral Allen testifies on National Ocean Policy

*The Coast Guard and the Arctic – Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3

*An interview with ocean activist and author David Helvarg

*Coast Guard history of polar and ice operations

*Arctic domain awareness flights

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  • Chuck

    The Polar Sea’s problem are only a small part of the problem the CG faces. Hardly any WHEC or WMEC can get underway with a major problem developing. It’s only possible to “rehab” a vessel of this age a finite amount of times. We are well past that point. At what point will our leaders say enough. At the current pace the CG will soon be having to hand its some of its missions to the Navy or contract vessels. If that day comes the CG is on it’s way out the door.

  • Andrew

    Another example of the Coast Guards deteriorating fleet. Will the administration step up and listen to congress? Continue to fully fund and increase funding for the Coast Guard.

  • Nick Rerras

    The POLAR SEA issues are another example that the USCG is overdue for significant re-capitalization, and the efforts to bring in new platforms and systems seems to be making some headway. But future federal budgets do not seem to promise significant new funding. There certainly will be new priorities set in Washington, and hopefully the CG’s Homeland Security mission will receive some impact resources over the next few years.

  • Cutterman

    Maintaining old cutters is simply not sexy & wont get votes. Votes = $$$. Cute little orange boats, fast-roping, & other “Look-good, Feel-good” counter-terrorism toys sell votes! This is where your tax dollars have been going. It doesnt seem to matter that our old cutters were already out “Standing the Watch” before, during, & ever-since 9/11/01, with no additional funding. Likewise our icebreakers have been breaking ice for decades with no additional funding. Your car doesnt get cheaper to operate with age, why do we expect our ships to? Show me the money? Perhaps the oil spill with wake some people up to the threat along the North Slope!

  • Seatroll

    As more and more issues with our fleet come up two things keep showing up in our wake:

    #1 As use to be stated regularly our people are our greatest asset, as these problems did not develop goes some “Gremlin” got wet. They have been developing for years and our engineers have used everything from the traditional bubble gum and bailing wire to crazy glue to keep it running, and complete the mission. Unfortunately that capability has also made them some of our greatest enemies, in the respect that if they had declared it a show stopper, the leadership short and long would have been forced to notice and appropriately react, now it’s all reactionary.
    #2 Cutters and Cutter folks are “boat people,” refugies from our history relegated to really do the job while boats and cubicle ninja’s get the credit for missions well done. Boats do as noted above the media shots, cutters do the missions!

  • Seabiscuit

    Polar Star is currently going through the same rehab that extended Polar Sea’s life expectancy to 2014. Polar Sea is broke down – its not 2014. What’s that called when you do the same thing but expect a different outcome?

  • CutterTrash

    Unfortunately, this is becoming an all to common occurance, much like the previous posters have commented. To say people are number one, where does equipment fall? What happens to those guys, when they get stuck in the ice, or fall from the sky. This is not just a cutter problem, it is a service wide problem. We have old equipment throughout the service. Our “Shipmate” in HQ needs to pound it into Congress’s head,
    “We are operating old, falling apart equipment, give us support,
    NOW!!! Or Mr. Congress man, you can explain to the fallen
    servicemember’s family, why you did not see fit to spend money
    to give him/her the most up to date and safe to operate
    equipment.”

    Please Admiral, do something!!

  • TaxiManSteve

    I’ve sent letters to newspapers advocating the Polar Sea be slated to become an icebreaker museum in Juneau, Ak… Next to the USCGC Storis as a museum ship… Like the Krasin in Saint Petersburg, Russia.

    Steven Lindsey
    State representative
    Ches-3
    Keene, NH

  • David Soby (HSC retired)

    Wow seems like a long time for vessels to be out of commission. Time to modernize the fleet.

  • Brinda Strandberg

    Hello. Great job. I did not expect this on a Wednesday. This is a great story. Thanks!

  • Acai Berry

    I just sent this post to a bunch of my friends as I agree with most of what you’re saying here and the way you’ve presented it is awesome.

  • John T. Pierce

    Excellent story on the Polar Sea and the state of the icebreaking ‘fleet of one’ that we are currently operating. As a previous Polar Sea sailor, I can say without reservation that she is a Hell of a Ship, but well past her prime. Her mission has been and continues to be worthy of the country and service which operate her, therefore a replacement ship MUST be allocated for as soon as possible. Any port would be honored to have her.
    (Ex-MST2)

  • brien

    @taximansteve … I didn’t realize the Krasin had been retired. I had the chance to go aboard while it was in McMurdo and see the ship and photograph parts of it. I have a photo ( of the Krasin with the Polar Star, the Palmer and Buck. Not sure if there have ever been more ships together before at one time that close to McMurdo.

  • Me

    I like the idea of a ‘fleet of one’.
    google