Cantwell to President Obama: Use 2017 Budget to Fill Critical Gaps in U.S. Polar Icebreaking Fleet

Senator: “There is a race to the Arctic-and the United States isn’t even in the game”

SEATTLE, WA – U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), a senior member of the Senate Commerce Committee, today urged President Obama to use his fiscal year 2017 budget—which is expected early this year—to fill mission-critical gaps in the United States polar icebreaking fleet.

In her letter, Cantwell made clear that unless the U.S. expands its woefully inadequate fleet of operational icebreakers—the ships the Coast Guard needs to access the Arctic—it will continue to fall farther behind other countries that are looking to the Arctic for military, economic, and environmental interests.

“The United States is falling dangerously behind in the Arctic—an increasingly important region to our economy, environment, an security…The United States has only two operational ice breakers. Russia has 40 operational ice breakers, while China has invested $300 million for their second heavy icebreaker,” said Cantwell, the former Chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fishers, and Coast Guard. “I strongly support your proposed plan to speed up the acquisition of new Coast Guard heavy icebreakers… [and] extend the service life of the Coast Guard’s idle heavy icebreaker, the Polar Sea.”

Earlier today, Cantwell was joined by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), retired Admiral Jeff Garrett, and Vigor Industrial’s CEO Frank Foti at a press conference near the USCGC Healy to highlight the need to increase funding for the U.S. polar icebreaking fleet.

Click HERE for a copy of Cantwell’s letter.

Despite numerous studies that have confirmed the Coast Guard requires a minimum of three heavy and three medium icebreakers to fulfill its missions, the U.S. currently has only three polar icebreakers: two heavy and one medium. The two heavy icebreakers are more than 40 years old with the Polar Sea currently sitting idle pending a decision on refurbishment. By contrast, Russia has 40 operational icebreakers while Sweden and Finland operate six and seven icebreakers, respectively.

For the last decade, Cantwell has championed efforts to rebuild the Coast Guard’s aging polar icebreaking fleet. Most recently, Cantwell authored a provision authorizing $14 million over the next two years for design of a new icebreaker.