ANCHORAGE, Alaska – Congress passed bill authorizing the addition of Coast Guard Polar Security Cutters for use as icebreakers. An Alaska senator said the Trump administration was considering leasing an icebreaker owned by a Republican donor.
The Coast Guard has two icebreakers, but only one is in service after an August fire that damaged the USS Healy. The ongoing construction work on a new icebreaker is not expected to be completed until 2024.
The Coast Guard Re-Approval Act is part of the National Defense Approval Act passed by Congress for Fiscal Year 2021.
US Republican Senator Dan Sullivan from Alaska co-authored the bill with Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell from Washington and Republican Senator Roger Wicker from Mississippi.
In a statement, Sullivan thanked his colleagues for “recognizing the importance of the Arctic and supporting the ships and infrastructure necessary to realize America’s role as an Arctic nation.”
Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski from Alaska spoke out in favor of approving more icebreakers.
“I am proud of the progress we have made in helping the US strengthen its capacity and presence in the Arctic while other arctic and non-arctic nations expand theirs,” said Murkowski.
Russia has 53 icebreakers and Canada has seven, US Coast Guard data shows.
Sullivan said at a Senate hearing last week that the White House is considering leasing a private icebreaker to step up the Coast Guard operation “as soon as this month”.
The US needs a sustained presence in the Arctic to deter adversaries, Sullivan said.
Sullivan referred to “another Florida icebreaker” as a possible lease option at the hearing.
The Aiviq, owned by Edison Chouest Offshore International, was the only privately-owned medium-duty icebreaker in the United States that is listed with the Coast Guard. Tracking websites indicated that the ship was docked in Tampa, Florida at the time of Sullivan’s comments.
Louisiana-based shipbuilder Edison Chouest built the $ 200 million Aiviq for a Shell Oil Company’s offshore drilling project in the Arctic that was later discontinued.
Company owner Gary Chouest and his wife have given millions of dollars to the Republican Party and especially Republican political candidates.