Coast Guard in New England accelerates icebreaker operations

SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine – As temperatures drop below zero throughout the region today, the Coast Guard remains on the water serving and protecting ports and ships.

As icy rivers slow to a trickle, the missions of Coast Guard units in Northern New England pick up pace.

The Coast Guard operates four ice breakers in Maine which keep rivers, including the Penobscot, and harbors clear for commercial ships, some of which supply the area with home heating fuel. As record temperatures freeze waterways faster than normal, the full effort of Coast Guard ice-breakers is required.

“We are just wrapping up a cycle of ice-breaking on the Penobscot River where the ice was nearly a foot thick,” said Commander Brian Downey, of Sector Northern New England.

“We have to be ready for emergency calls from harbormasters or commercial operators who need ice cleared to ensure commerce continues – its cold but very important work,” he said.

This winter, expected to be one of the coldest on record, will be the first in more than four years that the river will be used commercially. In Brewer, the newly-built Cianbro manufacturing plant will use barges to transport prefabricated materials to Texas.

Coast Guard crews brace as the mercury plummets to 20 degrees below zero in Caribou, Maine, where the Coast Guard operates a Long Range Navigation Radio station.

“Last year, our four-member crew in Caribou was plagued with record breaking snow fall…over 100 feet”, Downey said. This year the challenge is the temperature. But Downey said with their skills and resolve, the crew continues to transmit their important navigation signal to mariners.

“We’re very proud of their ability to adapt and overcome environmental challenges,” he said.

Coast Guard units in Northern New England have important year-round missions that don’t stop when it’s cold.

“Even during a week like this, with frigid temperatures, we continue our fishing vessel safety examinations, law enforcement boardings, and commercial shipping safety and security duties,” Downey said.

He said in the winter, the crews use state-of-the-art anti-exposure suits to protect against frost-bite and hypothermia.

The Coast Guard warns everyone working in the harsh and unpredictable marine environment to take extra care and precaution against the cold.

“These temperatures can be deadly for anyone not properly prepared,” Downey said.

He said during a dangerously cold week like this, the Coast Guard remains true to its vision: All Threats, All Hazards, Always Ready.

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