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Coast Guard: U.S. Should Have 3 Heavy, 3 Medium Icebreakers

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The funding priorities and needs of the United States Coast Guard took center stage today at a hearing of the U.S. Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee held at Senator Murkowski’s request.  Spurred on by USCG Commandant Admiral Robert Papp’s recent comments that the U.S. is “behind the power curve regarding the Arctic,” Murkowski drilled down into multiple issues critical to Alaska.

During testimony, Papp informed Murkowski and the committee that Alaska “lucked out” by having the USCGC Healy nearby for the emergency mission to Nome earlier this year. The Admiral had been asked to deploy it to Antarctica, and he testified “I am delighted I do not have to sit here today and explain why Healy was in Antarctica when Nome was starving for fuel.”

Murkowski also asked Admiral Papp directly, “How many icebreakers do we need?” (below) He informed her that the Coast Guard’s study indicated “optimally, we would have three heavy icebreakers and three medium-sized icebreakers.”  The U.S. presently has one active medium icebreaker.

Murkowski also called attention (below) to the $8 million in the FY2013 Coast Guard budget allocated for an icebreaker – in March, she told the Alaska state legislature that amount “won’t get you a porthole” – and asked what Alaska can realistically expect as a timeframe for a new icebreaker to be launched.  Though Papp informed her that a decade will be needed until a new one is in the water, he said he “will look at leasing opportunities and assess how that would work.”

Other key moments during the hearing:

Murkowski: “We are seeing more water in the Arctic that the Coast Guard is charged with.  What we haven’t done as a Congress is step up to that responsibility as an Arctic Nation.”

Committee Chair Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA):  We’ve got to build an icebreaker; we have to build an icebreaker.

Admiral Papp: Senator, you and I know we are an Arctic Nation, but it’s difficult to convince some people of this fact.  We need to educate people.

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