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US Relies on Russian Icebreakers to Create Shipping Channels in Antarctica

Published Feb 13, 2012 3:24 PM by The Maritime Executive

With few available U.S. cutters, ships supplying the U.S. base in Antarctica are depending on Russian icebreakers to provide shipping channels.

Last month, Russian icebreaker Vladimir Ignatyuk was used to open a shipping lane to McMurdo Station, the main American base on Antarctica. It was necessary to do so in order for a U.S. Military Sealift Command tanker could deliver millions of gallons of fuel. Another supply vessel currently en route for McMurdo will also require Russian assistance to get through.

The U.S. Navy and Coast Guard generally handle the assignment of cutting supply channels through the ice, but delay on revamping the fleet has led to the reliance on foreign vessels. The only working icebreaker in the United States is the Coast Guard Cutter Healy, which just returned from supplying Nome, Alaska with much-needed fuel. Another was recently decommissioned, and a third one is being upgraded currently for almost $63 million. The Russian fleet, on the other hand, has more than two dozen icebreakers, including several nuclear-powered ships. Each cost an estimated $1 billion to build.