33 thoughts on “Polar Star to the Rescue?

  1. I would love that so much if the Polar Sea came to the rescue…probably would bring more publicity to the Coast Guard than Katrina, though that was a huge event….

  2. Thought it might be interesting to look at the ships that are there now.

    From Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Icebreaker_Xue_Long), the Chinese icebreaker “Xuě Lóng is 167 metres (548 ft) long and has a beam of 22.6 metres (74 ft). When loaded to a draft of 9 metres (30 ft), she has a displacement of 21,025 tons. The ship is powered by a single[11] 8-cylinder BMZ 8DKRN60/195 low-speed two-stroke diesel engine, a licence-built version of B&W 8L60MC, producing 13,200 kW (17,700 hp). The main engine is coupled to a ducted controllable pitch propeller.[2][12] In open water, Xuě Lóng can achieve a maximum speed of 18 knots (33 km/h; 21 mph) while in 1.1-metre (4 ft) ice she can proceed at 1.5 knots (2.8 km/h; 1.7 mph). Her ice class, assigned by the China Classification Society (CCS), is B1.”

    Also from Wiki (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aurora_Australis_%28icebreaker%29), the Australian icebreaker, “Aurora Australis is 94.91 metres (311.4 ft) long, and has a beam of 20.3 metres (67 ft), draught of 7.862 metres (25.79 ft) and moulded depth of 10.43 metres (34.2 ft). Her displacement is 8,158 tons, gross tonnage 6,574 and deadweight tonnage 3,911 tons.[1] Her propulsion machinery consists of two Wärtsilä medium-speed diesel engines in father-son arrangement, one 16-cylinder 16V32D producing 5,500 kW and one 12-cylinder 12V32D producing 4,500 kW. Both engines are coupled to a single shaft through a reduction gear, driving a single, left-hand-turning controllable pitch propeller in a nozzle.[2] Slow speed manoeuvring is achieved with three manoeuvering thrusters, one forward and two aft.[2] Aurora Australis has a maximum speed of 16.8 knots (31.1 km/h; 19.3 mph),[citation needed] and a cruising speed of 13 knots (24 km/h; 15 mph).[1] The vessel can break level ice up to 1.23 metres (4 ft 0 in) thick at 2.5 knots (4.6 km/h; 2.9 mph).

    And the French icebreaker (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L%27Astrolabe_%28icebreaker%29) is much smaller with only 4,600 KW (a little over 6,000HP).

    By comparison the Polar Star (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USCGC_Polar_Star_%28WAGB-10%29) is much more powerful, “Polar Star’s three shafts are each turned by either a two diesel-electric or one gas turbine power plants. Each shaft is connected to a 16-foot (4.9-m) diameter, four-bladed, controllable-pitch propeller. For all three shafts, the diesel-electric plants can produce a total of 18,000 shaft horsepower (13,425 kilowatts) and the gas turbine plants a total of 75,000 demand shaft horsepower (56 MW) or 60,000 continuous horsepower (44.8 MW).”…”Polar Star is able to continuously progress through 6 feet (1.8 m) of new hard ice at 3 knots (6 km/h) and break up to 21 feet when using back-and-ram methods.”

  3. Looks like the Polar Star is heading down to the Antarctic, thats what Im talking about! Time to save some sailors, though Im praying USCG doesnt get stuck, or else this is gonna start to get really embarrassing.

  4. Recently, during NDA budget matters discussions…the Washington and Alaska Congress critters tried to include legislation to build FIVE (yes, 5!!!) new icebreakers. Of course, it never made it out of committee.

    Senator Murkowski (AK) wants to focus throwing money at a future larger presence in the Arctic…and Federal dollar$ of course to support any Federal presence in Alaska. It’s all about bringing home the bacon to your home state!!!!

    Senator Murray (WA) wants to satisfy the hungry mouths of her Union supporters (and campaign contributions of course) in feeding off of the Federal teats of shipbuilding dollars!!! (ex. Icebreakers built by Union shipbuilders in Washington State)

    Senator Murray is the one who recently found Federal dollar$ in selling away Military Retirement COLA (yea, that was her and her new favorite RINO – Paul Ryan), I wonder if she’ll now use this latest turn of events to push for a cut of additional military benefits to build icebreakers (of course with the intention of saving the world – and scientists trying to prove Global Warming – Note that all of this started with the rescue of wacko scientists who were trying to legitimize Global Warming – and the lack of reporting of that fact from the major news organizations).

      • Looks like 0 of 5 made it into the NDA that went to the POTUS for signature. Maybe next time.
        I’d guess Polar Sea will head to the shipyard for a major in a year or three. That punt will give Congress another decade to not decide.

        On a related note, I had not previously realized that the large Russian nuclear powered breakers were built/converted for Arctic tourism AND that they are not nearly as capable is Star/Sea. It’s also somewhat entertaining that they can’t leave high north latitudes under their own power because of the reactor cooling requirements.

    • Well said, shipmate! All so VERY true.

      Lets not forget to mention the Flag/General Officers who pushed Congress for an end to sequestration either which resulted in the cuts to military retirement COLAs. Given they all have jobs waiting for themselves in the defense industry when they retire, the reduction in their own COLAs will be a drop in the bucket.

  5. Congress and the USCG are looking at the icebreaker funding thing all wrong. There is obviously a commercial need for it’s services. If there is a commercial need, then you have a possible funding source. Option 1 is just to charge an arm and a leg to come to the rescue. The smarter option would be some sort of “insurance” or “tax” to charge countries and companies that may need icebreaker services.

    • While you could probably do that with American companies (e.g. oil companies planning to drill in the Arctic), I don’t think it would work with countries.

      Also, what would be an acceptable delay for the service at the time of the need? In regions where icebreaker escort is regularly needed, vessels rarely need to wait for more than couple of hours for assistance. What if the USCG’s only icebreaker was on the wrong pole?

      • Furtherfurthermore, if such “rescue service” was in any way profitable, there would already be private companies building icebreakers. Yet, there is just one American icebreaker not employed by a government entity…

  6. It doesn’t need to be profitable, it needs to offset some of the cost. I imagine someone from Australia is expected to pay some of the costs of deploying the Polar Star. This happened last year too, some Australian ship got stuck and we had to send the icebreaker. If Australian companies and nationals are regularly using USCG services then the American taxpayer shouldn’t be expected to foot the bill for it. Sending a heavy icebreaker to the South Pole is expensive as hell, it’s not like picking up some people whose yacht capsized off the coast.

    As for the reluctance of private companies to self fund a heavy icebreaker, it’s a billion dollar investment. No bank is going to fund that unless the service contracts are already in place. And as long as the USCG is willing to do it for free or at cost, then there is no market for it.

    The point is that a very few derive the benefit of a billion dollar icebreaker. But to those few, it is a critical asset. The US needs to think of someway to fund this outside of normal revenues or the thing is never going to be built because other priorities will always come first.

    • The only reason why USCGC Polar Star was called to the rescue last year (when first a Russian, then a Chinese and finally an Australian ship got suck) and again this year is that the ship happened to be in Antarctica due to Operation Deep Freeze. It’s not like they called it from the other side of the world – it was already there. Had that been the case, they would have probably called Oden from Sweden…

      Of course, every mile across the ice is expensive as hell especially with the gas turbines, so I agree that someone should foot the fuel bill. Also, I think if you intend to operate in ice-infested waters far away from regular shipping lanes, you should have some kind of insurance to cover a potential rescue operation because there are just a handful of very specialized ships that can carry it out.

      Around here, the cost of icebreaker escort is included in the fairway fees paid around the year, so no-one has to pay for it separately. However, that’s just because everyone benefits from it and a fee-based system would make life difficult. In the US, where icebreakers are not “needed” as such and the operations can occur on the other side of the world (e.g. Antarctica), the situation is not that simple.

      Finally, building a heavy icebreaker only costs a billion dollars if you’re building it on an American shipyard for a government agency. Built elsewhere for an owner with commercial interests, a vessel with similar capabilities would be something like $300-400 million.

    • If the CG is ever going to build one of these, It will need a special appropriation, because it will not fit in our normal AC&I budget. This is analogous to the Navy’s Trident replacement program. It just will not fit within routine budgets.

      • Perhaps we can have a deal. Our F-18s are reaching the end of their service life in the coming years. What if we build you a few icebreakers and you give us some Super Hornets in return? 😉

      • Which is why I think the only conversation that matters at this point is how do we get the money to pay for it. It’s never going to get funded over anything else. And budgets aren’t going up significantly anytime soon.

        They have to figure out a way to collect some extra money. Whether it is through extra fees on Arctic oil and gas permits, or an extra surcharge on Antarctic fishing permits, or pooling resources with Canada, Australia, Japan, and NZ, or maybe something else.

        The money isn’t going to fall out of the sky to build these ships. Unless a revenue stream is created nothing with happen until the Polar Star breaks down again.

      • Fisheries off Antarctic is an interesting question. There are fisheries there, but while the US is probably the most active country in Antarctic exploration, the US has not made any claims to territory on the continent, but has reserved the right to make a claim in the future. Consequently we have no claim on the fisheries off the coast of Antarctica. I think New Zealand and Australia, who have made claims, do attempt to enforce fisheries regulation over the areas they claim. Does this mean large areas of Antarctic fisheries is unregulated? I suspect so.

  7. This article from last September is a good description of the funding situation.


    And this quote from the head of the NSF encapsulates the problem ““We need icebreaking services. We don’t need a full-time heavy icebreaker at our beck and call and we don’t have the resources to support such,” Falkner said. Further in the article Congressman Young suggested that the NSF then lease those services, but of course there are no heavy icebreakers for rent.

    The obvious problem with that is that no one wants to shoulder anything other than operational costs for their use. But the infrastructure costs (the ships) have to be paid too. Everyone using USCG heavy icebreaker services is functioning as a free rider. And as long as the USCG goes along with that, no new heavy icebreaker will be funded until the one we have breaks down and can’t be fixed.

    The irony is that the USCG actually has people over a barrel on the issue. Lots of entities need heavy icebreaking services, but not really enough to justify a private sector solution. So all these entities have nowhere else to go. The failure of the USCG to translate that leverage into the ability to get funding for the project is indicative of an agency that doesn’t play politics very well.

    • $1B is too much to swallow in one gulp, but the government is buying two $2B destroyers and two $2B submarines every year. And they are buying a $14B aircraft carrier.

      We have 82 destroyers and cruisers already so would we really be less safe with only 81?

      Obviously you are right, we do not know how to play politics.

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