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Russia winning Arctic race: US Coast Guard

By RIA Novosti,

Washington : A top US Coast Guard official has told the Congress that Russia is getting ahead of the United States in the “Arctic race” and the administration must urgently revise its approach to polar exploration.

“I’m concerned we are watching our nation’s ice-breaking capabilities decline,” Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Thad Allen told the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Wednesday.

“It’s imperative to obtain the current validating capabilities so our polar operations can be met,” he said.

The Coast Guard chief said Russia had finally put to sea last year the largest icebreaker in its polar fleet – the ’50 Years of Victory’, which has been under construction since 1989 and guarantees Russia easy access to the vast natural resources in the Arctic region.

Allen said Russia is the only other country, besides the US, with polar ice breaking capabilities, but the Russian fleet is in far better shape, with “seven to eight” nuclear-powered polar icebreakers.

The US Coast Guard’s medium and Polar-class ice breaking fleet consists of the cutters Healy, Polar Sea and Polar Star.

Russia has undertaken two Arctic expeditions – to the Mendeleyev underwater chain in 2005 and to the Lomonosov ridge last summer – to back Russian claims to the region.

The area is believed to contain vast oil and gas reserves and other mineral riches, likely to become accessible in future decades due to man-made global warming.

Russia said it would submit documentary evidence to the UN of the external boundaries along Russia’s territorial shelf in 2009.

Under international law, the five Arctic Circle countries – the US, Canada, Denmark, Norway and Russia – currently have a 322-km economic zone each in the Arctic Ocean.