Obama pushes for icebreaker fleet expansion

The United States President Barack Obama has proposed to accelerate the acquisition of new icebreakers for the U.S. Arctic amid expected increase of marine traffic in the area as sea-ice cover diminishes.

According to Obama, the United States needs to boost its icebreaking fleet capacity as the country technically has three icebreakers in its fleet – all under the command of the U.S. Coast Guard.

“However, when age and reliability are taken into account, the fleet is down to the equivalent of two fully functional icebreakers and only one heavy-duty icebreaker. Russia, on the other hand, has forty icebreakers and another eleven planned or under construction,” Obama said.

As the expected growth of human activity in the Arctic region will require highly engaged stewardship to maintain the open seas necessary for global commerce and scientific research, and allow for search and rescue activities, the Administration proposed acceleration of acquisition of a replacement heavy icebreaker to 2020 from 2022.

The proposal also recommended to start planning for construction of additional icebreakers, and called on Congress to provide funding for these investments, estimated to be worth around USD1 billion.

US shipbuilders Huntington Ingalls industries and General Dynamics Corp have expressed interest in building the new icebreakers, Reuters reports.

Both shipyards claim that they have the necessary capacity and experience in constructing these types of ships and would be “very interested” in supporting the icebreaker program further. 

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