U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star successfully completed its breakout of McMurdo Science Station in Antarctica in support of Operation Deep Freeze Wednesday. The cutter assisted by breaking a navigable shipping lane through 12 miles of ice in McMurdo Sound, encountering ice up to 10 feet in thickness.
The shipping channel through the ice created by Polar Star was used by the tanker ship Maersk Peary to deliver approximately three and a half million U.S. gallons of fuel to McMurdo residents, allowing the station to remain manned and ready during the freezing winter months. The channel was also used by the cargo ship Maersk Illinois to deliver more than 500 containers of supplies to operate McMurdo and South Pole stations for the next 12 months.
In addition, the crew of the Polar Star assisted with the deployment of nearly one mile of fuel hose to Marble Point, an air station 20 miles west of McMurdo, which will allow the station to be refueled for the next 10 to 15 years.
Polar Star left its homeport of Seattle in early December 2013, making a portcall in Honolulu. While in transit from Seattle to McMurdo, the cutter received a request to assist two vessels that were beset by ice in Antarctica earlier in the year. Fortunately both vessels were able to free themselves and the Polar Star was released from the rescue mission.
For more than 50 years, Coast Guard icebreakers have deployed to Antarctica in support of Operation Deep Freeze. This deployment will mark the first Antarctic mission a Coast Guard icebreaker has performed since 2007.
On the road to Deep Freeze 2014, Polar Star conducted sea trials in the first two weeks of April 2013, then began training and troubleshooting the engineering plant during their Arctic Ice Trials that summer. During the Arctic Ice Trials Polar Star spent weeks in the Beaufort Sea north of Barrow, Alaska testing all of its modes of propulsion, validating the operation of its six main diesel engines and three gas turbines. After seven years in an inactive status Polar Star departed on Operation Deep Freeze December 3, 2013.
Polar Star, a 399-foot polar class icebreaker with a 140-person crew, is recently out of a three-year $90 million overhaul by Vigor Shipyards based in Seattle. The icebreaker was commissioned in January 1976.