As America’s Polar Security Cutter Program faces increasing delays, the U.S. Coast Guard is seeking to buy a commercially available icebreaker. Envisioned as a short-term gap-filler as the Coast Guard’s last remaining heavy icebreaker, the 46-year-old USC
Though the used icebreaker market is vanishingly small, the Coast Guard may still end up getting a pretty good deal by snapping up an otherwise surplus icebreaker, the M/V Aiviq, as an austere-but-useful bridge to expanded U.S. icebreaking capability. Though the Coast Guard has, for years, resisted calls to purchase the Aiviq due to the vessel’s lack of suitability for military operations, delays in the Polar Security Cutter program offer the Coast Guard few options if the service wishes to maintain icebreaker capability.
A “Request For Information” released on May 3 suggests that the Coast Guard is looking to purchase a robust, U.S. built icebreaker, capable of underway operation for a minimum of 60 days without resupply. The service wants a vessel of a maximum draft of 29 feet that meets the International Association of Classification Societies “ice classification” of PC-3—a robust icebreaker capable of year-round operation in second year ice, and capable of breaking at least 3 feet of ice at a continuous speed of 3 knots.
The vessel itself should have a helideck, capable of landing Coast Guard helicopters, and have an on-board medical treatment facility.
Not Many Ships Meet The USCG Requirements
According to the American Bureau of Shipping vessel database, the M/V Aiviq is the only available ship capable of meeting most of the Coast Guard’s requirements. The Anchor Handling Tug Supply vessel is currently owned by Offshore Service Vessels, LLC, a subsidiary of the ship’s builder, Edison Chouest Offshore. Originally built for $200 million, the ship was previously listed for sale at $149 million.
The Aiviq is an interesting vessel. Classified as an ABS A3 icebreaker, it can break ice 1 meter thick at a continuous speed of 5 knots.
A young vessel, the ship entered service in 2011 to support Royal Dutch Shell’s shallow-water drilling program off the coast of Alaska in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas. When that initiative collapsed in the wake of a disastrous 2012 grounding of a key rig, the Kulluk, the icebreaker became relatively redundant, and was effectively mothballed for years. At present, the vessel is supporting Australia’s Antarctic operations and is currently moored off Hobart.
The ship has a helideck suitable for a Sikorsky S92, as the basis for the future “Marine One”, the Alviq’s helideck can support the Coast Guard’s smaller MH-60T Jayhawk and MH-65E Dolphin helicopters.
In addition, the anchor handling, towing and supply vessel is ROV capable, and the vessel has the capability to carry two Coast Guard-ready small boats. With facilities for a crew of 28, the vessel can support some 36 additional people. And with a conference room, three lounges, three laundry rooms and an exercise facility, a medical suite and, potentially, even some military capabilities can be added on the already commodious ship.
You Hear The Price, You Buy:
While M/V Alviq is no Polar Security Icebreaker, the Coast Guard stands to obtain an austere, 75% solution for Polar duties for probably about 20% of the Polar Security Cutter’s overall cost.
The Coast Guard is going about the procurement correctly, tying any purchase to a comprehensive support package—a package the Service needs as it builds up a cadre of icebreaker operations and support personnel. The service is also looking towards the long-term, and seeking to purchase the ship’s technical data package—critical information necessary to maintain the vessel as it ages.
To ease into the task of owning and operating an icebreaker, the Coast Guard wants the potential seller to provide 3-5 years of contracted maintenance and sustainment support, as well as trained personnel to operate the ship for 1-3 years after purchase. In addition to that, the Coast Guard also wants to lease a homeport location for the first 5-7 years after purchase. These are exactly the sort of services Edison Chouest Offshore—a highly regarded Gulf Coast shipbuilder and operator—can provide.
Edison Chouest Offshore may have some capability to modify the vessel to better meet the Coast Guard’s military and law enforcement mission-set. As the Pentagon prepares to end their long-term lease of the M/V Carolyn Chouest, a secretive afloat staging base for special operations, the sale and contract to support sustained operations of the Aiviq may come at just the right time for Edison Chouest Offshore. The company may be able to shift some of the M/V Carolyn Chouest’s equipment and vessel operators to the icebreaker, and the company already has a back office familiar with the mysterious world of government contracting. Any deal—if one goes forward—also may set Edison Chouest to “buy in” to the Coast Guard, setting itself up for a successful bid to build new icebreakers once the Coast Guard either walks away from the Polar Security Cutter contract or gets about exploring smaller icebreakers.
Certainly, the M/V Aiviq is not perfect. While it would be wonderful to have hangar facilities and an ability to support a larger crew, the Aiviq, as it is, seems like an easy “win” for the Coast Guard, assuming, of course, that demand from the now-resurgent oil patch doesn’t drive sudden new demand for America’s only unspoken-for home-built icebreaker.