The U.S. Coast Guard announced an unexpected engine casualty aboard Coast Guard Cutter Polar Sea, one of the service’s three polar icebreakers, will prohibit the icebreaker from getting underway for its fall 2010 Coast Guard Arctic patrol and will most likely keep the cutter from providing standby capability for Operation Deep Freeze to support the resupply of McMurdo Station, Antarctica.
Polar Sea will likely be in a maintenance status and unavailable for operations until at least January 2011. The Coast Guard’s other heavy, polar icebreaker, the Polar Star, is in the process of being reactivated for service, but will not be ready until 2013. The Coast Guard Cutter Healy, a medium polar icebreaker, remains operational.
Inspections of the Polar Sea’s main diesel engines revealed premature excessive wear in 33 cylinder assemblies. A root cause failure analysis to determine the underlying cause of the excessive wear is underway and expected to be complete in August. The Polar Sea was commissioned into service on Feb. 23, 1978, and has exceeded its intended 30-year life; in 2006 the Coast Guard completed a rehabilitation project that extended its service life to 2014. The Polar Star was placed in a caretaker status in 2006 and is currently completing a seven to 10 year, service life, extension project that is expected to return it to an operational status in early 2013.
The Healy is capable of conducting a wide range of Coast Guard missions in the Polar Regions including supporting scientists working in the Arctic. The Healy is the most technologically advanced polar icebreaker in the fleet.