The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star sits moored in Lyttelton Harbor during a port call to, Christchurch, New Zealand, Feb. 18, 2017. The Polar Star crew stopped in New Zealand after completing a month-long icebreaking mission to Antarctica.
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The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star sits moored in Lyttelton Harbor during a port call to, Christchurch, New Zealand, Feb. 18, 2017. The Polar Star crew stopped in New Zealand after completing a month-long icebreaking mission to Antarctica.

Seattle to welcome a new heavy ice cutter

For the first time in 40 years, the U.S. is getting a new heavy ice cutter to join the Coast Guard’s Polar Star and the Polar Sea, whose home port is Seattle.

Democratic Senator Patty Murray said ice breakers play a critical role in our national security and are “a strategic asset in our nation’s efforts to promote our interests in the north.”

Scott Montgomery, a lecturer at UW’s Jackson School of International Studies, called it a win for the U.S. that was long overdue.

The ice cutters perform myriad tasks, including rescue missions, some law enforcement, resupplying McMurdo Station in Antarctica and assisting Navy missions in the Arctic.

Bill Radke interviews Scott Montgomery on 'The Record,' Monday, June 10, 2019.

“The Defense Department released an Arctic policy document – this is really an interesting turnaround. Suddenly the Arctic has become a big topic,” he said, speaking with Bill Radke on KUOW’s The Record. “There are a number of reasons we can expect: China is very interested in the Arctic.”

Montgomery said the U.S. would want to keep an eye on merchants moving goods from China to Europe as well as Chinese boats transgressing territorial fishing rights.

“They are very interested in having full access for some of their ships and also for merchant traffic,” he said. “I don’t see them weaponizing it like the South China Sea, but there is a concern on the part of the Defense Department that China will be a larger threat over time than Russia will be in the Arctic.”

The new American ice cutter is not slated to carry weapons, but Montgomery noted that it does have space for weapons to be added later.

“I would also keep my ears and my eyes open as to how they might be used in the future,” he said.

Montgomery said the new ice cutter does not pave the way for more oil drilling, but could be called in to assist in a rescue capacity if oil rigs run into trouble.

The new ship is expected in 2024.

A fun note: Ice cutters don’t work the way you might assume. Their bows aren’t sharp like other ships to slice through the water and reduce friction. Instead, the bows of ice cutters are rounded, which drives the ship up and over the ice. Gravity and the ship’s weight is what breaks the ice.

Produced for the web by Kara McDermott.