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U.S. Coast Guard Plans to Buy Edison Chouest's Icebreaker Aiviq

Aiviq (Edison Chouest file image)
Aiviq (Edison Chouest file image)

Published Mar 5, 2024 8:14 PM by The Maritime Executive

The U.S Coast Guard is finally moving to acquire the icebreaking offshore vessel Aiviq from Edison Chouest in order to fill a growing capability gap. 

Chouest and several members of Congress asked the Coast Guard to purchase the Aiviq in 2015-16, but the Coast Guard previously declined, arguing that the vessel “was not suitable for military service without substantial refit.” In what now appears to be a change of plans, the Coast Guard has issued a public notice that it will enter into a sole-source contract to buy Chouest's icebreaker. 

In a previous request for information notice issued in 2022, the Coast Guard outlined the kind of icebreaker it intended to buy. These included a commercial vessel constructed at a U.S. shipyard, capable of operating in or around the Arctic, and able to break at least three feet of ice ahead at a continuous speed of three knots. Other terms include underway operation for a minimum of 60 days without resupply, at least 15 years of original design service life remaining, an on-board medical treatment facility and the ability to land Coast Guard helicopters.d

These specifications fit Aiviq, owned by Offshore Service Vessels LLC, a unit of Edison Chouset Offshore (ECO). “Offshore Service Vessels, LLC is the only company that can meet USCG needs based on the requirements set forth in the Request for information,” the Coast Guard said in its notice

Aiviq was built in 2012 by North American Shipbuilding Company in Larose, Louisiana and LaShip in Houma, Louisiana at a cost of $200 million. The vessel was initially chartered by Royal Dutch Shell to support oil exploration and drilling in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska. After a main propulsion failure (and subsequent grounding of Aiviq's drill-rig tow) in 2012, Shell's exploration program was suspended and Aiviq entered layup. The vessel has been more active in recent years, operating on charter to Australia's Antarctic research program. 

Conservative estimates indicate the Coast Guard could acquire the Aiviq at a cost of $150 million before committing an equally substantial amount for a complete overhaul.

The Coast Guard has limited options for replenishing its icebreaking fleet. The heavy icebreaker USCGC Polar Star is years past its design lifespan, and it undergoes a substantial shipyard refit every year in order to stay in operation. It is almost exclusively assigned to the annual resupply mission for McMurdo Station in Antarctica. The medium icebreaker USCGC Healy, based out of Seattle, is the sole vessel available for Arctic missions when Polar Star is in the Southern Hemisphere. 

The Coast Guard is working on procuring a new series of heavy icebreakers, but the program has encountered delays