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Icebreaker USCGC Healy Calls at the North Pole

Healy in ice
Image courtesy USCG

Published Oct 4, 2022 11:27 PM by The Maritime Executive

In 2015, the icebreaker USCGC Healy became the only American vessel to reach the North Pole unaccompanied. Last week, she became the only American vessel to do it twice. 

Healy called at the northernmost latitude on Friday as part of an extended science mission in the Arctic. She departed Seattle in July and visited the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, deploying underwater sensors, sea gliders and acoustic buoys for a novel ice hydrodynamics research program for the Office of Naval Research.

On the completion of her first summer voyage, she called in Dutch Harbor to take aboard thirty-four scientists for a new trip north. She set sail for higher latitudes on September 4 on a voyage for the Synoptic Arctic Survey, a multinational effort to create a comprehensive baseline of data on Arctic waters - something which did not previously exist. The baseline will give researchers a reference point which can be used for comparison as the Arctic changes. The journey to the Pole was part of this mission, since the waters of the region are little-studied.

“We are excited to reach the Pole!” said Dr. Carin Ashjian, co-chief scientist for the mission. “We have little information from the ocean and seafloor at the top of the world so what we collect here is very valuable. It also fills in data from a region, the western Central Arctic, which was not sampled by other ships in the [Synoptic Arctic Survey]."

It was also an unmissable opportunity for an ice liberty. Wasting no time, crewmembers set up a "North Pole" sign at the right spot for a photo shoot. Healy's command made it even more special for a select few by holding recognition and advancement ceremonies for crewmembers at the Pole, the Coast Guard said.

USCGC Healy is the United States' sole medium icebreaker, and she is the only U.S. icebreaker typically tasked with operations in the Arctic north. She sustained an electrical fire and motor failure in August 2019 and returned to service after repairs in 2021. Her first voyage out was a circumnavigation of North America using the Northwest Passage.