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Collaborative effort for Arctic icebreaking gains traction

January 31, 2019

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — A proposal to use private and foreign ships to help fill the demand for commercial icebreaking is gaining traction among Arctic stakeholders.

Polar Institute Director Mike Sfraga said the concept would be similar to ride-hailing services like Uber, but instead it would be a commercial ship calling for support vessels to help cross Arctic waters, Alaska Public Media reported Wednesday.

The “Uber for icebreakers” model would call for a collaborative effort among the northern countries to create an Arctic pathway paid by commerce fees, Sfraga said at a roundtable discussion in the U.S. Senate last week.

Commercial ships are expected to be more interested in “across the top” routes beyond Russia-controlled shipping lanes by 2030 or 2040, Sfraga said.

U.S. lawmakers have supported the construction of new Coast Guard icebreakers, but the funding has been stalled in the ongoing debate over a southern border wall.

The Arctic travel season lasts days to weeks, even in years of dramatically shrinking sea ice. Fee-based icebreakers would still require support infrastructure, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski said. The Alaska Republican has sponsored a bill that calls for building deepwater ports in northern Alaska.

“Not just one port but a system of Arctic ports — ports of refuge for ships in trouble and ports to send, receive and transship goods and people,” Murkowski said on the Senate floor.

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