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March 25, 2014

Angus King reflects on Arctic Ocean defense trip

U.S. Sen. Angus King met with Navy officials in a military excursion in the Arctic, where he boarded a submarine that burst through the ice in the style of a James Bond movie.

King visited the region with other members of Congress and U.S. defense officials to discuss their ability to operate in the warming Arctic environment, landing Saturday in a single-engine Cessna airplane 150 miles from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska.

After meeting researchers from the University of Washington, King boarded the nuclear-powered submarine USS New Mexico, which had earlier dramatically broken through 3-foot thick ice.

The U.S. sees the Arctic as a region important to national security, and King said the trip would help him make better decisions in Congress through his position on the Armed Services Committee. The Navy trains in the challenging environment every three years to test combat readiness.

In addition to observing Navy operations, King said the trip underscored the need to develop a plan for the Arctic.

In an interview with The Associated Press, King said because of climate change, ice caps are melting and exposing new shipping routes and energy reserves. He said countries including Denmark, Norway, Russia, Canada and the U.S. are interested in developing the area for commerce.

"The Arctic is literally a new frontier," he said. While addressing climate change should be a priority, the U.S. also should be pragmatic about the opening of largely unchartered and unclaimed waterways to new exploration, he said.

King stayed onboard the submarine for 20 hours as it dove to 500 feet before breaking back through the ice. He praised the crew members for retaining their spirit and idealism in cramped quarters. Two of the crew members were from the Maine towns of Bangor and Gorham.

King said developing the Arctic for commerce would potentially require collaboration with other countries, as well as investing in technologies such as ice-breaking boats. Presently, the U.S. has one such boat capable of operating in the region, he said.

"It is helpful to be there and see it," he said.

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