The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy arrived at the North Pole on Friday, according to a release from the U.S. Coast Guard.
The Healy, a medium-duty icebreaker designed primarily for research, sailed to the pole without being accompanied by any other ship. It’s the ship’s third trip to the pole and its second unaccompanied. No other U.S. icebreaker has made the trip alone.
“This rare opportunity is a highlight of our Coast Guard careers,” the Healy’s commanding officer, Capt. Kenneth Boda, said in the release. “We are honored to demonstrate Arctic operational capability and facilitate the study of this strategically important and rapidly changing region.”
The vessel is on a research mission that includes 34 scientists from multiple research institutions, but it is also in Arctic waters to support “U.S. national security objectives for the Arctic region by projecting a persistent ice-capable U.S. presence in U.S. Arctic waters, and patrolling our maritime border with Russia,” the Coast Guard said in its release.
Last month, another Coast Guard ship, patrolling waters further south unexpectedly encountered a group of Russian and Chinese warships, and earlier this week, two Russian nationals arrived by boat on St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea.
The Healy’s arrival at the pole comes just weeks after sea ice reached its annual minimum extent, which was tied for the tenth-lowest on record.
It also comes as the U.S. is building its strategic focus on the Arctic, with the opening of a regional security studies center in Alaska in August, and the announcement of the creation of a new Arctic strategy and global resilience office in September. A revised U.S. Arctic strategy is also expected out later this year.
While the North Pole remains a remote and hard-to-reach destination, it’s been visited more frequently in recent years, with Russian, German and Chinese expeditions — and even adventure cruise ships — reaching 90 degrees North.