US Coast Guard icebreaker catches fire en route to the Arctic

The US Coast Guard cutter Healy (WAGB-20) suffered a fire in one of the ship’s main propulsion motors on August 18 while underway for operations in the Arctic.

Photo: USCG

The medium icebreaker USCGC Healy was 60 nautical miles off of Seward, Alaska, en route to the Arctic when an electrical fire was reported at 9:30 p.m. local time.

A fire team disconnected the affected motor, and the fire was confirmed extinguished by 9:56 p.m. The cause of the fire is currently unknown.

Due to the fire, Healy’s starboard propulsion motor and shaft are no longer operational, and the ship is transiting back to its homeport in Seattle for further inspection and repairs, USCG said.

Prior to the fire, the Healy completed a 26-day patrol in support of Operation Arctic Shield. On August 15, the Healy was in Seward and embarked 11 scientists before departing on August 18 to ensure national security and conduct science operations in the Arctic. As a result of the fire, all Arctic operations have been canceled.

Luckily, no injuries were reported.

“I commend the crew of the Healy for their quick actions to safely combat the fire,” Vice Adm. Linda Fagan, the Pacific Area commander, said.

“This casualty, however, means that the United States is limited in icebreaking capability until the Healy can be repaired, and it highlights the nation’s critical need for polar security cutters.”

In April 2019, the US Navy and the US Coast Guard awarded a contract to VT Halter Marine, of Pascagoula, Mississippi, for the detail design and construction of the polar security cutter.

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The initial award includes non-recurring engineering, detail design and construction of the first polar security cutter and has options for the construction of two additional hulls.

Construction of the first cutter is scheduled to begin in early 2021 with delivery in 2024. What is more, the fiscal year 2021 President’s budget requests full funding for the construction of the second polar security cutter.

Apart from the 420-foot, 2000-commissioned USCGC Healy, the coast guard’s operational polar icebreaking fleet currently includes one 399-foot heavy icebreaker, USCGC Polar Star, commissioned in 1976.

Photo: USCG