Nation’s sole heavy icebreaker departs for Arctic deployment

With Mt. Baker in the background, U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star (WAGB-10) transits Puget Sound north of Seattle on Dec. 4, 2020. The Polar Star normally departs for Antarctica, but this year the pandemic has cancelled their mission to assist with resupplying bases there. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer Steve Strohmaier)

With Mt. Baker in the background, U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star (WAGB-10) transits Puget Sound north of Seattle on Dec. 4, 2020.  (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer Steve Strohmaier)

SEATTLE – The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star (WAGB 10) departed Friday for a months-long deployment to the Arctic to protect the nation’s maritime sovereignty and security throughout the region.

The 44-year-old heavy icebreaker will project power and support national security objectives throughout Alaskan waters and into the Arctic, including along the Maritime Boundary Line between the United States and Russia.

The Polar Star will detect and deter illegal fishing by foreign vessels in the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone and conduct Arctic training essential for developing future icebreaker operators.

“Polar Star is poised to head into the cold, dark Arctic winter to carry out a historic mission,” said Capt. Bill Woitrya, the cutter’s commanding officer. “The ship is ready, and the crew is enthusiastic to embark on this adventure. We will defend U.S. interests in the region, and continue to hone our proficiency to operate in such a harsh, remote environment.”

The Polar Star historically departs Seattle each December for Antarctica in support of Operation Deep Freeze, the annual military mission to resupply the United States’ Antarctic stations, in support of the National Science Foundation.

This year’s maritime resupply at McMurdo Station was cancelled due to COVID safety precautions, and a limited resupply will be conducted via aircraft. However, Operation Deep Freeze is an enduring mission that requires a heavy icebreaker for a full resupply, and the Coast Guard anticipates resuming this critical deployment next year.

In August, the 21-year-old CGC Healy (WAGB 20) suffered an electrical fire in the starboard main propulsion motor cutting short the cutter’s Arctic operations. The motor was recently replaced (video below) during a unique dry dock evolution and the nation’s sole medium icebreaker is expected to return to the Arctic in 2021.

As the Nation’s primary maritime presence in the Polar Regions, the Coast Guard advances U.S. national interests through a unique blend of polar operational capability, regulatory authority, and international leadership across the full spectrum of maritime governance.

In April 2019, the Coast Guard released the Arctic Strategic Outlook, which reaffirms the service’s commitment to American leadership in the region through partnership, unity of effort, and continuous innovation.

“The Arctic is no longer an emerging frontier, but is instead a region of growing national importance,” said Vice Adm. Linda Fagan, commander of U.S. Coast Guard Pacific Area. “The Coast Guard is committed to protecting U.S. sovereignty and working with our partners to uphold a safe, secure, and rules-based Arctic.”

The Coast Guard has been the sole provider of the nation’s polar icebreaking capability since 1965 and is seeking to increase its icebreaking fleet with six new polar security cutters (PSC) to ensure continued national presence and access to the Polar Regions.

The Coast Guard awarded VT Halter Marine Inc. of Pascagoula, Mississippi, a contract for the design and construction of the Coast Guard’s lead polar security cutter, which will also be homeported in Seattle. The contract also includes options for the construction of two additional PSCs.

Healy engine change video.

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