As the U.S. fleet of icebreakers continues to age and fall behind the world’s arctic maritime community, the vision and fortitude of U.S. decision makers continues to wane. The recent announcement by Shell Oil to launch their $200 million arctic icebreaker in April 2012 should send a shiver up the spine of every Coastguardsman and mariner who has considered how the United States will deal with the future of operations in the high latitudes.
Year after year and exercise after exercise, the U.S. Coast Guard and Navy continue to identify the need for U.S. icebreakers – either new or repaired mothballed fleet. The M/V AIVIQ is intended to support Shell’s arctic oil exploration and has been built to withstand the rigorous demands of the Arctic ice and remote operations. One can only scratch one’s head and wonder how this ship could be designed, constructed and launched in less than 3 years, and the U.S. Congress, Coast Guard and maritime industry has been unable to agree on a plan to replace the broken USCG icebreaker fleet for the past several decades. It is time to get serious and put our money where our long-term national security priorities are – in the Arctic.