A fire has hobbled the Coast Guard's only medium icebreaker, cancelling the 420-foot ship's scheduled summer deployment to the Arctic and sending it back to Seattle, the service announced Tuesday.
The Healy suffered a fire in one of its main propulsion motors as it left Seward, Alaska, Aug. 18 for an extended deployment to the Arctic. The blaze was discovered at 9:30 p.m. and extinguished less than 26 minutes later, but the starboard propulsion motor and shaft were left inoperable, said Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Stephen Brickey, a spokesman for Pacific Area.
The vessel's propulsion motors are powered by the ship's main diesel engines and drive the shafts and propellers. The design allows the vessel to operate steadily without subjecting the drives to variations in speed caused by icebreaking operations.
The 20-year-old ship is outfitted largely for scientific research, and was 60 miles offshore when the fire broke out. The Healy was scheduled to be on deployment until October. It carried 28 Office of Naval Research scientists as well as a crew trained in national security and search and rescue operations.
No injuries were reported, Brickey said.
"I commend the crew of the Healy for their quick actions to safely combat the fire," Vice Adm. Linda Fagan, Pacific Area commander, said in a release. "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."
The blaze follows a series of fires on U.S. Navy ships in the past month. A catastrophic fire raged for four days on the amphibious assault ship Bonhomme Richard, nearly destroying the ship and causing damage to 11 of its 14 decks. The vessel was undergoing maintenance at the time in San Diego.
Another amphibious assault ship, the Kearsarge, and the yet-to-be-commissioned carrier John F. Kennedy suffered small shipyard fires after the Bonhomme Richard mishap, according to Defense News.
The damage on the Healy leaves the service with just one heavy icebreaker and several smaller icebreakers designed for river and lake operations in winter.
The heavy icebreaker Polar Star left dry dock at Mare Island Aug. 5, and is now in port in Seattle, where it is receiving additional repairs and maintenance before it deploys in late fall for Antarctica.
Design is underway for the service’s newest icebreaker, a Polar Security Cutter slated to be built by VT Halter Marine of Pascagoula, Miss. Construction is scheduled to begin in early 2021 with delivery in 2024.
President Donald Trump requested funding for a second polar security cutter in his fiscal 2021 proposed budget; the House version of the Homeland Security funding bill includes the requested $555 million for the project but its future remains unclear as the Senate Appropriations Committee has not yet marked up its spending bills.