The U.S. Coast Guard Sector Juneau in Auke Bay is the preferred home port for a private icebreaker that may be purchased by the federal government to help patrol Alaska’s Arctic waters, according to U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan. Among the reasons Juneau is preferred over other state ports is the harbor is currently capable of accommodating the vessel and is adjacent to land where necessary supporting infrastructure could be built. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

The U.S. Coast Guard Sector Juneau in Auke Bay is the preferred home port for a private icebreaker that may be purchased by the federal government to help patrol Alaska’s Arctic waters, according to U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan. Among the reasons Juneau is preferred over other state ports is the harbor is currently capable of accommodating the vessel and is adjacent to land where necessary supporting infrastructure could be built. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

Juneau may be home to only Coast Guard icebreaker stationed in Alaska

Effort to buy private ship for Arctic use may bring 190 enlistees, Sen. Sullivan says.

A privately owned icebreaker with a controversial history may soon be purchased by the U.S. Coast Guard and based in Juneau to boost its Arctic presence, stationing 190 additional personnel plus their dependents here as well, U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan said Wednesday.

Proposals to purchase the 10-year-old Aiviq icebreaker from Edison Chouest Offshore have been made since 2015, with former U.S. Rep. Don Young among the primary advocates. But the Coast Guard has repeatedly rejected the idea, stating the vessel was “not suitable for military service without substantial refit.”

Edison was Young’s largest campaign donor at that time, and Sullivan has received a $27,000 donation from the company, according to Federal Election Commission filings, but the senator said obtaining the icebreaker now while more capable ships destined for Alaska are being built is essential to what the military calls a national security shortfall in the far north.

“We need icebreakers today,” Sullivan said. “Russians have 54, and many are nuclear and many are weaponized. We have two and they’re in Seattle.”

One of the two in Seattle is out of service for retrofitting, he added. While six more-capable icebreakers have been authorized and three are being built, they’re years from being put into service.

“I went into this knowing it wasn’t going to be as technically advanced as the ones we’re building but I guarantee this: it’s going to be as advanced as the ones we have,” Sullivan said.

Juneau is currently the preferred home port for the vessel, rather than a more northerly port in Anchorage or along the west coastline, based on a community assessment by the Coast Guard, Sullivan said.

“They looked at a number of different communities, they looked at land, at schools, they looked at medical facilities, they looked at a whole range of interests,” he said.

In addition to the existing Coast Guard dock at Auke Bay being capable of accommodating the 110-meter-long icebreaker, the facility is adjacent to land owned by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that is being considered for transfer to the city, Sullivan said. That would be used for buildings and other infrastructure — costing a couple hundred million dollars – to help support the estimated 190 enlistees and 400 dependents resulting from the ship’s home port designation.

“This is going to be huge there,” he said, but emphasized “we’re not there yet.”

Funding to acquire the icebreaker, expected to cost from $125 million to $150 million, as well as for the land acquisition are still pending in Congress, although Sullivan said he’s optimistic they will be approved by the end of the year.

“We’re going to work it hard and we’ve been working this Coast Guard bill for months,” he said. “I think it’s likely, but I don’t want to jinx it.”

The Aiviq, completed in 2012, was built by Edison Chouest Offshore to support Royal Dutch Shell’s drilling operations in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas. But the ship almost immediately made national news when it suffered mechanical failure and lost control of an oil rig it was towing, with the rig running aground off Kodiak Island.

That didn’t prevent efforts to get the Coast Guard to purchase the ship, initiated in 2015 by U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter of California. Young joined the effort the following year.

The Aiviq is somewhat less capable than the Coast Guard medium icebreaker Healy, which visited Juneau early this month after a four-month Arctic deployment before returning to its home port in Seattle. The privately owned vessel is classified as ABS A3, meaning it can operate independently in the Arctic offshore shelf for half of the year and in the stable pack ice of the Central Arctic on “short-term, short-distance entries during July through December.”

Sullivan said an evaluation of numerous icebreakers available worldwide have been evaluated during the years acquiring the Aiviq has been under consideration. But currently it is the most-suitable option and the only such available icebreaker in the U.S.

“My goal as Alaska senator has been to get an icebreaker in Alaska,” he said.

• Contact reporter Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com

More in News

The Aurora Borealis glows over the Mendenhall Glacier in 2014. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Aurora Forecast

Forecasts from the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute for the week of Feb. 5

Folks at the Alaska State Capitol openly admit to plenty of fish tales, but to a large degree in ways intended to benefit residents and sometimes even the fish. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
The bizarre bills other state legislatures are considering

Alaska’s Legislature isn’t mulling the headline-grabbers some statehouses have in the works.

This photo shows snow-covered hills in the Porcupine River Tundra in the Yukon Territories, Canada. In July 1997, a hunter contacted troopers in Fairbanks, Alaska, and reported finding a human skull along the Porcupine River, around 8 miles (13 kilometers) from the Canadian border. Investigators used genetic genealogy to help identify the remains as those of Gary Frank Sotherden, according to a statement Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023, from Alaska State Troopers. (AP Photo / Rick Bowmer)
Skull found in ‘97 in Interior belongs to New York man

A skull found in a remote part of Alaska’s Interior in 1997… Continue reading

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police calls for Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023

This report contains information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Officer William Hicks stands with JPD Chief Ed Mercer and Deputy Chief David Campbell during a swearing in ceremony for Hicks on Thursday at the JPD station in Lemon Creek. (Jonson Kuhn / Juneau Empire)
New officer joins JPD’s ranks

The Juneau Police Department welcomed a new officer to its ranks Thursday… Continue reading

These photos show Nova, a 3-year-old golden retriever, and the illegally placed body hold trap, commonly referred to as a Conibear trap, that caught her while walking near Outer Point Trail last week. (Courtesy / Jessica Davis)
Dog narrowly survives rare illegally placed trap in Juneau

State wildlife officials outlined what to do if found in similar situation

Gavel (Courtesy photo)
Public defender agency to refuse some cases, citing staffing

ANCHORAGE — A state agency that represents Alaskans who cannot afford their… Continue reading

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police: Gift card scam connected to hoax Fred Meyer threats

This article has been moved in front of the Empire’s paywall. A… Continue reading

This is a concept design drawing that was included in the request for proposal sent out by the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities seeking outside engineering and design services to determine whether it’s feasible to build a new ferry terminal facility in Juneau at Cascade Point. (Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities)
DOT takes steps toward potential Cascade Point ferry terminal facility

It would accommodate the Tazlina and or Hubbard, shorten trips to Haines and Skagway

Most Read