By Steven Mufson,
ANCHORAGE, Alaska — President Obama said late Monday he would accelerate by two years plans to acquire a new icebreaker and would ask Congress for funds to build additional ones for the Coast Guard in an effort to keep up with ship traffic that is increasing as the Arctic waters off Alaska grow warmer.
The president also said that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Coast Guard will map and chart waters of the Bering, Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, for which existing maps and charts are nonexistent or outdated.
The moves are nods toward Alaskan leaders — including Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan — who have been urging the administration to bolster the paltry ability of the Coast Guard to monitor the largest state’s 6,640-mile coast.
The announcement Monday night was an acknowledgment that the United States had fallen behind other nations, especially Russia, which possesses 40 icebreakers and has plans to add at least 11 more.
The White House said that after World War II, the Coast Guard had seven icebreakers in its fleet — four under the Navy and three under the Coast Guard. Today, the United States has only two fully functional icebreakers and only one is a heavy-duty icebreaker.
The acquisition of a new icebreaker would happen in 2020 instead of 2022.
The announcements Monday night — after the president’s speech to senior ministers from Arctic nations — were also an acknowledgment that climate change is prompting a scramble for the rights to develop the Arctic’s largely untapped reserves of oil, natural gas and minerals. In 2014, the first unescorted commercial vessel to transit the Northwest Passage delivered a cargo of nickel ore mined in the Arctic of northern Quebec to China.
[Obama using Alaska to add urgency to his climate change warnings]
Even if the United States does not permit large-scale mining or exploration in Alaska, Alaska’s shores could be threatened by spills, leaks or accidents from the activities of other nations.
“The growth of human activity in the Arctic region will require highly engaged stewardship to maintain the open seas necessary for global commerce and scientific research, allow for search and rescue activities, and provide for regional peace and stability,” the White House said in a statement. “Meeting these challenges requires the United States to develop and maintain capacity for …Read More