Last February, a fire broke out on the Polar Star, an incinerator broke down, electrical systems and shipboard insulation failed. Meanwhile, a shaft leak and a nine-hour failure in the power system plagued a boat that is well beyond its 30-year service life and overdue for retirement.

“This is the only heavy icebreaker the United States has. We’re the ones that have to do the mission.” said Lt. Cmdr. Karen Kutkiewicz, who steered the ship through the ice on a trip earlier this year to resupply Antarctica’s McMurdo Station and was interviewed as the vessel returned to Seattle in March. “This is 43 years old. This takes a lot of TLC.”

Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell has pushed for years to secure funding for new icebreakers in a century when climate change is forecast to greatly increase vessel traffic in Arctic waters. The Coast Guard also plans to build three medium icebreakers. It has not been determined where they would be homeported.