Washington : A US icebreaker will leave Monday for an Arctic research mission shortly after a similar Russian expedition designed to lay claim to a section of the resource-rich region, the Coast Guard said.
News of the Healy vessel’s trip came as two Russian mini submarines dived 14,000 feet below the Pole Thursday, planting a titanium Russian flag on the seabed in a symbolic move to lay claim to a vast slice of the Arctic territory, which Moscow says is the continuation of its continental shelf starting from Siberia.
A US survey suggests the Arctic seabed contains up to 25 percent of the world’s oil and natural gas reserves and other mineral riches made accessible by the receding of the polar ice by global warming.
The Healy is one of the four polar icebreakers of the US. But the National Research Council in September last year urged the construction of two new ones to replace the ageing Polar Sea and Polar Star “to project (the country’s) active and influential presence” in support of its interests in the Arctic and the Antarctic.
Melting ice in the Arctic sea is opening new shipping routes and sparking economic activity, such as exploration for natural resources, the council’s Congress-sponsored report said.
President George W. Bush has also urged the Senate to approve his country’s participation in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea “to advance US interests in the world’s oceans”.
A UN commission is yet to rule on Russia’s claim to 1.2 million square km of the territory – the underwater Lomonosov and the Mendeleyev ridges which Moscow says is the continuation of its continental shelf.
Under international law, the five countries with territory inside the Arctic Circle – Russia, the US, Canada, Norway and Denmark which controls Greenland – are entitled to claim only a 200-mile economic zone around their coastlines.
Canadian Foreign Minister Peter MacKay, whose country also has a large section of Arctic territorial waters, dismissed Russia’s symbolic flag planting as a meaningless gesture that does not strengthen its territorial claim.