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Polar Star seeks ice north of the Arctic Circle

Posted: July 2, 2013 - 12:00am

ANCHORAGE — The Polar Star, one of the nation’s two heavy-duty icebreakers, is back in service and undergoing ice trials in the Arctic, a U.S. Coast Guard spokeswoman said Monday.

“They are actually now north of the Arctic Circle, looking for ice,” said Coast Guard Chief Warrant Officer Allison Conroy.

The Polar Star left Unalaska on Friday, six months after it returned to service and started sea trials.

The purpose of the trials is to determine the sounding of the ship since it’s been out of commission for more than four years.

“We want to make sure before we send it out on duty, it’s ready to go, it as well as the crew,” she said.

The vessel was reactivated last December following a four-year, $57 million overhaul.

“What goes into a ship, everything that makes it run and go, was retrofitted,” Conroy said. “It was a complete overhaul.”

The 35-year-old ship, which calls Seattle its homeport, is one of the nation’s two heavy-duty icebreakers. The other is the Polar Sea. The Coast Guard last June postponed plans to scrap the Polar Sea to give the Obama administration and Congress more time to consider options in rebuilding the fleet.

The nation’s other icebreaker is the Healy, used in January 2012 to escort a Russian tanker to Nome to make an emergency delivery after a fuel barge failed to arrive before the Bering Sea froze.

The Healy is a medium-duty icebreaker designed to crush ice about 5 feet thick. The Polar Sea is designed to break through ice up to 21 feet thick.

The Polar Star can bust through a two-story wall of ice by backing up and ramming, but the ship is past its original life span.

Members of the Alaska and Washington congressional delegations have argued for beefing up the nation’s ice-breaking capabilities as climate change opens up more previously frozen regions to scientific and commercial exploration.

The Polar Star was overhauled at Vigor Industrial shipyard in Seattle.

Unalaska radio station KUCB first reported the ice trials.

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