The U.S. Coast Guard’s only heavy icebreaker, USCGC Polar Star (WAGB 10), arrived at McMurdo Station, Antarctica on Jan. 22 following a 58-day transit from the United States.
The Polar-class icebreaker, along with 159 crew members, departed its’ homeport of Seattle on Nov. 26. This year marks the 23rd journey of Polar Star to Antarctica in support of Operation Deep Freeze (ODF), an annual joint military service mission to resupply the United States Antarctic stations, in support of the National Science Foundation (NSF), the lead agency for the United States Antarctic Program.
The 399-foot, 13,000-ton icebreaker arrived at the research station after creating a 23 mile channel through the ice to McMurdo Sound, which will enable the offload of over 19.5 million pounds of dry cargo and 7.6 million gallons of fuel from three logistic vessels. Together these three ships carry enough fuel and critical supplies to sustain NSF operations throughout the year until Polar Star returns in 2021.
Each year, the Polar Star creates a navigable channel through seasonal and multi-year ice, sometimes as much as 21-feet thick, to allow refuel and resupply ships to reach McMurdo Station. The supply delivery allows Antarctic stations to stay operational year-round, including during the dark and tumultuous winter.
“I am immensely proud of all the hard work and dedication the men and women of the Polar Star demonstrate each and every day,” said Greg Stanclik, commanding officer of the Polar Star. “Maintaining and operating a 44-year-old ship in the harshest of environments takes months of planning and preparation, long workdays and missed holidays, birthdays and anniversaries with loved ones. The Polar Star crew truly embodies the ethos of the Antarctic explorers who came before us — courage, sacrifice and devotion.”
Commissioned in 1976, the Polar Star is the United States’ only operational heavy icebreaker. Reserved for Operation Deep Freeze each year, the ship spends the winter breaking ice near Antarctica, and when the mission is complete, returns to dry dock in order to conduct critical maintenance and repairs in preparation for the next ODF mission.
The Coast Guard has been the sole provider of the nation’s polar icebreaking capability since 1965, and is seeking to increase its icebreaking fleet with six new polar security cutters in order to ensure continued national presence and access to the Polar Regions.
In April, the Coast Guard and U.S. Navy, working through an integrated program office, awarded VT Halter Marine Inc., a fixed price incentive contract in April for the detail design and construction of the Coast Guard’s lead polar security cutter, which will be homeported in Seattle. The contract also includes options for the construction of two additional PSCs.