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Historic ice breaker in drydock, future still uncertain

Posted: April 18, 2012 - 12:02am
A pair of tugboats guide the ice breaker USS/USCG Glacier through the Carquinez Straits toward a former Navy shipyard in Vallejo, Calif., for cleanup while passing Benicia, Calif., Tuesday, April 17, 2012. The ice breaker that helped found McMurdo Station on Antarctica, was once the flagship of Rear Adm. Richard E. Byrd and performed a record-breaking 39 Arctic and Antarctic deployments may become scrap despite more than a decade of repairs and studies aimed at making the ship a museum or medical and scientific ship. Both of Alaska's U.S. senators have moved to get the U.S. Department of Transportation's Maritime Administration to save this piece of floating history. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)  Eric Risberg
Eric Risberg
A pair of tugboats guide the ice breaker USS/USCG Glacier through the Carquinez Straits toward a former Navy shipyard in Vallejo, Calif., for cleanup while passing Benicia, Calif., Tuesday, April 17, 2012. The ice breaker that helped found McMurdo Station on Antarctica, was once the flagship of Rear Adm. Richard E. Byrd and performed a record-breaking 39 Arctic and Antarctic deployments may become scrap despite more than a decade of repairs and studies aimed at making the ship a museum or medical and scientific ship. Both of Alaska's U.S. senators have moved to get the U.S. Department of Transportation's Maritime Administration to save this piece of floating history. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

The ice breaker that helped found McMurdo Station on Antarctica, was once the flagship of Rear Adm. Richard E. Byrd and performed a record-breaking 39 Arctic and Antarctic deployments is in a Vallejo, Calif drydock as backers of a plan to save it from the scrap yard plead its case.

Alaska Senator Mark Begich sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration (MARAD) this week in a bid to save the vessel, an idea that also has support from Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

Despite support from the new owner of the vessel for a deal to swap it for another vessel, it may become scrap despite more than $3 million in repairs and structural studies by the non-profit Glacier Society aimed at making the ship a museum or medical and scientific ship.

The hitch is that MARAD, charged with disposing of old vessels, sold the ship for scrap — any other deal has to be blessed by MARAD.

“For this deal to work, MARAD would have to give you title to the Glacier quickly and let us tow it to Florida, otherwise we would have to break the contract which we now have which would be very expensive,” Richard Jarros of ESCO Marine in Brownsville, Texas wrote to the Society. “MARAD would have to agree to make a new contract whereby in exchange for towing the Glacier to Florida for museum purposes we would get the (vessel) Yellowstone for $1 USD.”

MARAD isn’t interested.

“For the past 14 years, the Maritime Administration strongly supported the Glacier Society’s goal of securing sufficient funding and a permanent berth to convert the former Glacier into a museum, even extending the deadline in the hopes that additional funding would arrive. Unfortunately, the Glacier’s condition deteriorated during this time to the point that it could not be donated and the ship was sold under a recycling contract in February,” said MARAD spokesperson Kim Riddle.

“As part of the National Historic Preservation Act, the National Park Service has surveyed and documented the vessel. The report will be deposited at the Library of Congress, San Francisco Maritime Museum, California State Historic Preservation Office, and on the Maritime Administration website,” she said.

Glacier Society Chairman Ben Koether yesterday strongly disputed that the ship had deteriorated past the point of being usable as a museum, and planned to get his own experts to update their assessment of the vessel.

The vessel is one of the few to serve in both the U.S. Navy and the Coast Guard.

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