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Newly renovated icebreaker undergoing Arctic tests

Jul. 1, 2013 - 02:16PM   |  
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UNALASKA, ALASKA — After a multiyear, multimillion-dollar renovation, the country’s only heavy icebreaker is undergoing weeks of trials to make sure everything works OK.

The trials in the Arctic also are intended to provide an opportunity for inexperienced crew members on the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star to get trained and qualified, APRN reported. That’s because the Coast Guard hasn’t had a heavy icebreaker for several years.

The 399-foot vessel underwent a four-year, $90 million renovation that ended last year. It is painted bright red, and its decks are clean and shiny. New anchors recently rested in coiled piles of chain.

Engines and gas turbines also were replaced, said Ensign Paul Garcia. Also new are the cranes, navigation equipment and systems for lowering anchors and small boats. There’s a newly equipped gym and movie theater, too, to help with crew morale on voyages that can last up to six months.

“Now, we need to make sure that all our equipment is functioning correctly, that we’re still able to withstand the same amount of force and break the same amount of ice that we were back in the ’80s,” Garcia said.

In the Arctic, the crew will perform icebreaking maneuvers that amount to repeatedly beaching the ship on the ice.

“We have a lot of weight up forward,” said Garcia. “We kind of have a rounded hull and so we use our three main gas turbines to come up on the ice and then use that weight to come down and it smashes the ice, and that’s how we create the channels.”

It’s hoped the trials will take care of any “growing pains,” he said.

“Fall time, I think we’ll be fully operational again and ready to perform any mission that the Coast Guard needs us to perform,” Garcia said.

While the vessel will be in the Arctic this summer, it will spend most of its time in service in the Antarctic, breaking channels through the ice to resupply McMurdo Research Station. The ship also will be available for scientific research, search and rescue and law enforcement missions and maintaining a U.S. presence in Arctic waters.

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