FAIRBANKS (Sputnik) — The US Coast Guard has only two active polar icebreakers, and its only heavy icebreaker is nearing the end of its service life, according to the Government Accountability Office.
Five US shipyards are currently preparing their icebreaker designs proposals while looking at international examples, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft told Sputnik earlier in May.
"I would say there is still a critical need for them [icebreakers]," Hamilton said. "If you look at what missions my ship does, we take scientists up to do climate research as well… So, the need to provide presence and access throughout the Arctic is as real now as it's ever been."
Hamilton stressed that while the ship that he is a captain of, the medium icebreaker Healy, is in exceptional condition, it is one icebreaker.
"The heavy icebreaker the Polar Star is still capable of doing an Arctic mission, and in fact, she just got back about two months ago, but she is 40 years old, so quite challenged," he noted. "When we look at the work in a resource-constrained environment at the moment, and more icebreakers would be helpful."
The commander added that other issues, like oil spill response, become concerning due to lack of icebreakers.
"The coast guard in the United States is responsible many things including oil spill response. When you look at the Arctic, I call it the tyranny of distance, we have one icebreaker and it is a large area, so that is an area of concern," Hamilton explained. "That's why we need to continue to work at places like the International Maritime Organization, that have good rules in place, and the Arctic Council, working together on agreements."