The Associated Press: Engine problems sideline Coast Guard icebreaker

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) _ Engine problems will keep the Coast Guard's only functioning heavy icebreaker in port for the rest of the year.

Inspections of the main diesel engines of the 32-year-old Polar Sea revealed premature excessive wear in 33 cylinder assemblies. A Coast Guard spokesman said repairs will take until at least January.

Rear Adm. Christopher Colvin, commander of the 17th Coast Guard District, called the development disappointing. The vessel had been scheduled to support operations demonstrating enforcement of U.S. sovereign rights in the maritime Arctic off Alaska's coast.

``Additionally Polar Sea was to provide critical search and rescue standby during a period of increased human activity in the U.S. Coast Guard's search and rescue coordination area of the Arctic Ocean,'' he said in an announcement.

The 399-foot Polar Sea was commissioned in 1977 with scheduled use for 30 years. Its home port is Seattle. As of last spring, the Polar Sea had made 18 voyages to the Antarctic and 22 voyages to the Arctic. On Aug. 22, 1994, the vessel became the first American surface ship to reach the North Pole.

The vessel can break ice up to 21 feet thick, or 6 feet of ice at a continuous speed of 3 knots.

The ship can carry two helicopters for science and logistics support. Berthing is available for approximately 150 crew members and 35 scientists. The ship is equipped with five internal laboratories and space for seven portable labs on deck.

The Coast Guard in 2006 completed a rehabilitation project that extended the ship's service life to 2014.

The Polar Sea last patrolled Alaska waters in February during a two-month deployment in support of the six-year Bering Sea Ecosystem Study examining the effects of changing ice conditions on the marine food web.

An analysis to determine the cause of the engines problems is expected sometime in August.

The country's other polar-class icebreaker, the Polar Star, was placed in a caretaker status in 2006 and is completing an extension project that could allow it to operate seven to 10 years.

The Polar Star is not expected to be in service until early 2013.

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, has pushed for additional icebreakers and said the Polar Sea's mechanical problems seriously imperil the country's ability to respond to emergencies in ice-covered waters.

Murkowski has introduced legislation to pay for two new Polar class icebreakers and improve mapping, navigation and maritime infrastructure in the Arctic.

The Coast Guard also has the cutter Healy, which has icebreaking capabilities and is used primarily to support scientific research. The Healy is designed to break 4.5 feet of ice continuously at 3 knots.

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Source: By Dan Joling. Published June 30, 2010