DEEP RIVER, Conn. (WTNH) — The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Bollard began its mission on the Connecticut River with the state’s two U.S. senators on board.

“Our being here is a way of saying ‘thank you’ to the Coast Guard,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said.

The 65-foot vessel broke the ice on what is a major waterway for ships transporting petroleum and other supplies to ports north. It’s all part of Operation Reliable Energy for Northeast Winters (OPRENEW).

“Ninety percent of all the heating oil delivered to Connecticut homes is done via this waterway,” Blumenthal said.

Up until a couple of weeks ago, they said there was no ice on the river at all, and soon after, they saw one chunk of ice hit the hull sections of the river that had frozen over, so it can happen very quickly.

“Right now, we have about eight to ten inches, at the max, on the river,” BMCS John Murphy, the senior chief on the Bollard said. “The cutter can break up to 12 inches while maneuvering.”

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The vessel can break up thicker ice by ramming into it or riding up on top of it. The weight of the boat then smashes through the ice. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said these efforts are important, locally and globally.

“To make sure the United States has command of all navigable waters,” Murphy said.

He’s hoping to get more funding flowing to the Coast Guard to help build bigger cutters that will break through Arctic ice where Russia already has sent its own ice breakers.

More money could also help update cutters like the Bollard which has been keeping the Connecticut River clear since the 50s.

“With the storm coming in this weekend, we want to get the river flowing out to the Sound so there is water moving, and it doesn’t start to rise up,” Murphy said.

Ice jams can cause flooding and damage property all along the Connecticut River.

Turn to News 8 starting at 5 for more on this ice-breaking operation.