The US Coast Guard Icebreaker Polar Star is being sent to “project sovereignty” in the waters off Alaska this December, said Coast Guard Capt. Williams Woityra, reports USNI.

The ship's commanding officer, Captain Williams Woityra, explained the deployment during a virtual conference hosted by the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., on November 13. USNI News covered the online event. The move was also explained in a statement issued by the Coast Guard on November 12 and covered by Military.com.

USNI News quoted Woityra as saying his ship would "project sovereignty" and "strengthen the rules-based order in the Arctic." Military.com noted that the December deployment would be the first time since August 1994 that a heavy icebreaker was sent to the Arctic on a mission not related to science.

USNI News noted that the move followed an incident last August when American fishers in the US exclusive economic zone in the Bering Sea were forced to leave by Russian warships and aircraft conducting exercises in the area.

Kip Wadlow, a Coast Guard spokesperson at Juneau, told KTOO that only American boats could fish in the US exclusive economic zone. However, vessels from other nations were still able to enter and operate. KTOO said that federal agencies had later investigated what came to be labeled "unprofessional interactions" on the Russians.

Heather Conley, vice president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, was quoted by KTOO as saying the US and Russia had been sending each other signals about the importance each of them gave to the Arctic.

‘The US is an Arctic nation’

Military.com said Vice Admiral Linda Fagan, commander of the Coast Guard Pacific Area, had called the Arctic "a region of growing national importance." USNI News quoted Woityra as stressing that "the U.S.

is an Arctic nation." Rising temperatures and new trade routes through what had previously been frozen waters had resulted in nations like Singapore, Japan, South Korea, and China showing an interest in the Arctic, USNI News. Warmer temperatures made it possible for the US and other Arctic nations to exploit mineral resources in the area, USNI News added.

Coronavirus reduces research in Antarctica

This is the first time in nearly 50 years that the Polar Star has not been scheduled to support scientists at Antarctica, according to USNI News. To prevent the coronavirus from spreading among scientists, countries with Antarctica's research stations had cut back on activities there, thus reducing the need for support from the Polar Star, USNI News said. McMurdo Station in the Arctic would be resupplied by air this year, Military.com reported.

Three more heavy icebreakers being built

Commissioned in 1976, the Polar Star is America's only heavy icebreaker but plans to build three more heavy icebreakers, according to USNI News. The first was being constructed at VT Halter Marin, in Pascagoula, Mississippi, USNI News said. The schedule for the completion of the ships had to be changed due to damage caused by a hurricane, USNI News said.

Military.com noted that the Coast Guard had a medium icebreaker disabled by a fire in one of its motors this summer. Military.com said the Coast Guard’s Arctic Strategic Outlook had been released in April 2019, and this year the Department of the Air Force Arctic Strategy had been issued.

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