WASHINGTON, Feb. 13 (UPI) -- Ships supplying the U.S. base in Antarctica are relying on Russian icebreakers to provide shipping channels, with few available U.S. cutters, officials said.
Last month the Russian icebreaker Vladimir Ignatyuk was called upon to open a shipping lane to the main American base on Antarctica, McMurdo Station, so a U.S. Military Sealift Command tanker could deliver millions of gallons of fuel. A second supply vessel currently bound for McMurdo will also require Russian help to arrive, officials said.
The military newspaper Stars and Stripes said Sunday the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard traditionally handle the assignment of cutting supply channels through the ice, but inaction on modernizing the fleet has led to dependence on foreign vessels.
The United States has only one working icebreaker, the Coast Guard Cutter Healy, currently escorting a Russian tanker through the Bering Strait to supply Nome, Alaska.
One other was recently decommissioned, and a third is being upgraded at a cost of $62.8 million, Lt. Eric Quigley, a Coast Guard capabilities manager, said.
The in-demand Russian fleet, by comparison, includes more than two dozen such vessels, which cost $1 billion each to build, including several nuclear-powered ships, the newspaper reported.