Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Sea could get second life
hile most of the talk in Washington centers around the “fiscal cliff,” the House was able to pass by voice vote H.R. 2838, The Coast and Maritime Transportation Act of 2012. The bill now heads to the Democratcontrolled Senate for approval. H.R. 2838 represents a compromise between a bill passed by the House last year and another passed by the Senate this past September. The bill authorizes $8.6 billion in FY2013 and $8.7 billion in FY2014 for the activities of the Coast Guard, including new construction and fleet maintenance. REACTIVATING THE POLAR SEA One of the provisions in the bill would require the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security to conduct
an analysis of the options for and costs of reactivating and extending the service life of the Polar Sea until at least September 30, 2022 in order to maintain the U.S. polar icebreaking capabilities. Built in 1977, the Polar Sea was deactivated in 2010 and was saved from scrapping this year. The analysis would have to determine the current condition of the Polar Sea, determine its capabilities in fulfilling the Coast Guard’s icebreaking needs, detail the costs of reactivation and life service extension; estimate the lifecycle cost of maintaining the Polar Sea during the rest of its extended life; and determine whether the reactivation is cost effective. The report would have to be submitted to the House’s Committee on
Transportation and Infrastructure and the Senate’s Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation no later than 270 days after the enactment of the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2012. The cost to build a new icebreaker is estimated at $1 billion. TRANSPARENCY OF WAIVER PROCESS If there is one thing that really angers U.S.-flag operators it is when the U.S. Maritime Administration issues waivers to allow non-qualified Jones Act vessels to carry cargo between two U.S. ports seemingly when qualified vessels are available. It has certainly caught the attention of Congressman Elijah Cummings (D-MD). A long-time champion of the U.S. maritime
industry, Cummings would like to see more transparency in the waiver process. He joined with Jeff Landry (R-LA) in a bipartisan effort by adding an amendment to HR 2838 that requires MarAd to identify all of the actions that could be taken to enable U.S.-flag vessels to carry the cargo for which a Jones Act waiver is sought. “With this information,” says Cummings, “we will be better able to assess whether a Jones Act waiver is truly needed.” The move would shed more light on the entire waiver process and protect American mariner job opportunities. The Jones Act requires that cargo transported between two U.S. ports must be carried by ships under the U.S. flag, manned by American mariners and built in the U.S.
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