The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star (WAGB-10) is in the fast Ice Jan. 2, 2020, approximately 20 miles north of McMurdo Station, Antarctica. (Senior Chief Petty Officer NyxoLyno Cangemi / USCG)

The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star (WAGB-10) is in the fast Ice Jan. 2, 2020, approximately 20 miles north of McMurdo Station, Antarctica. (Senior Chief Petty Officer NyxoLyno Cangemi / USCG)

Coast Guard heavy icebreaker retasked for Arctic deployment

The ship typically spends these months breaking trail to McMurdo Station in Antarctica.

The United States Coast Guard’s only heavy icebreaker has been slated for a northern deployment in December in lieu of its typical duties supporting Antarctic operations, according to a USCG press release.

“The Arctic is no longer an emerging frontier, but is instead a region of growing national importance,” said Coast Guard 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.”

USCGC Polar Star will deploy north this winter, echoing concerns from military commanders in Alaska about security and rule-following in the region as tensions ratchet up among the United States, Russia and China, which declared itself an Arctic power despite not having any Arctic territory. Lt. Gen. David Krumm, commanding general of the Alaska NORAD region, Alaskan Command and 11th Air Force, recently voiced explicit concerns about Russia and China abiding by territorial rules which they had blatantly disregarded elsewhere in a panel at the Alaska Federation of Natives annual conference.

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The 44-year-old, Seattle-built ship typically supports Operation Deep Freeze during the Antarctic summer from September to March each year, according to the press release, clearing sea ice up to 21 feet thick to allow supply ships to reach McMurdo Station. However, due to coronavirus concerns, the Polar Star was released north for Arctic operations, according to the press release. Resupply of McMurdo Station will be carried out via aircraft.

The Coast Guard’s other icebreaker, the medium icebreaker USCGC Healy, is a more familiar sight, visiting Juneau as recently as last October. The Polar Star will not be stopping in Juneau, said USCG public affairs specialist Petty Officer 2nd Class Lexie Preston in an email.

The Coast Guard is currently in the process of constructing new heavy icebreakers, the Polar Security Cutters, to expand its list of two service-ready icebreakers.

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at (757) 621-1197 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.

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