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Donald Trump
stated on May 17, 2017 in a U.S. Coast Guard commencement speech :
"I’m proud to say that under my administration, as you just heard, we will be building the first new heavy icebreakers the United States has seen in over 40 years."  
true half-true
The Canadian Coast Guard ship Louis S. St-Laurent makes an approach to the Coast Guard Cutter Healy in the Arctic Ocean, Sept. 5, 2009. (Coast Guard) The Canadian Coast Guard ship Louis S. St-Laurent makes an approach to the Coast Guard Cutter Healy in the Arctic Ocean, Sept. 5, 2009. (Coast Guard)

The Canadian Coast Guard ship Louis S. St-Laurent makes an approach to the Coast Guard Cutter Healy in the Arctic Ocean, Sept. 5, 2009. (Coast Guard)

By Smitha Rajan May 24, 2017

Trump goes a bit overboard with icebreaker claim

President Donald Trump told new graduates of the Coast Guard Academy that his administration is working hard to make the military branch’s job easier.

In his speech at the academy’s commencement on May 17, Trump said his administration will be investing in icebreakers in a way the country hasn’t done in a while.

"I’m proud to say that under my administration, as you just heard, we will be building the first new heavy icebreakers the United States has seen in over 40 years," Trump said.

Trump’s statement suggested his administration was the driver behind this project. He’s right about the four-decade gap, but it takes a long time to build a big ship (it’s just one -- not plural as he said) and the plan for this ship has been underway for some time.

Assessing the fleet

An icebreaker can carve a path through thick sheets of ice in frozen regions of the world or to access research stations in the Arctic. The bigger the ship, the thicker the ice it can handle.

The United States has just one active heavy polar icebreaker, the Polar Star, which entered service in 1976. At a speed of 3 knots it can break through ice as thick as 21 feet. A similar ship was mothballed after its engined died in 2010

In addition to the Polar Star, the country has medium icebreaker, Healy, and the National Science Foundation operates a small icebreaker named Palmer.

The construction of a new, heavy icebreaker would indeed be the first for the United States in four decades, said Magnus Nordenman, director of the Transatlantic Security Initiative at the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security.

In the works for a few years

Trump left out a key fact: The process of building a new heavy icebreaker for the Coast Guard began before he took office.

The U.S. Coast Guard told us the work began in earnest during President Barack Obama’s second term.

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"The time needed to build a new icebreaker can anywhere be between 5 to 10 years," said Sherri Goodman, a former defence official and senior fellow with the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

The Coast Guard included it in its 2012-13 budget submission, according to the Congressional Research Service.

The project received about $15.6 million through FY 2016.

In FY 2017, Congress gave the Coast Guard $25 million to manage the project and $150 million went to the Navy to start the design and construction process.

Right now, actual building is slated to start in 2020 and if all goes well, the ship will launch in 2023.

Our ruling

Trump said, "I’m proud to say that under my administration, as you just heard, we will be building the first new heavy icebreakers the United States has seen in over 40 years."

He has a point that the heavy icebreaker being built is the first  since the 1970s.

If all goes according to schedule, construction will begin in 2020 with delivery in 2023. That puts the building phase within his first term, but as with any large project, the timeline can slip.

Regardless, this has been an ongoing project that has been receiving funding from the government since 2013.

Trump’s statement implied that the efforts to build the icebreaker came from his administration when in fact it was already in progress before he took office. We rate this claim Half True.

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"I’m proud to say that under my administration, as you just heard, we will be building the first new heavy icebreakers the United States has seen in over 40 years."
At the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn.
Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Our Sources

White House, Remarks by President Trump at United States Coast Guard Academy Commencement Ceremony, May 17, 2017

Congressional Research Service, Coast Guard Polar Icebreaker Modernization: Background and Issues for Congress, May 12, 2017

Navy Times, Navy teams up with Coast Guard, July 14, 2016

High North News, US Coast Guard awards $20mn contract, March 9, 2017

Email interview, Magnus Nordenman, director, Transatlantic Security Initiative, Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security, May 18, 2017.

Email interview, Goodman, senior fellow, Woodrow Wilson International Center, May 18, 2017

Email interview, Department of Homeland Security, May 18, 2017

 

Trump goes a bit overboard with icebreaker claim

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