The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter 'Polar Star' is responding to a request from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) to assist the Russian-flagged passenger expedition ship 'Akademik Shokalskiy' and the Chinese-flagged icebreaker 'Xue Long' (which had earlier taken off the passengers from the 'Shokalsky' before becoming beset herself).
The Polar Star leaves Sydney today after taking on supplies prior to its voyage to Antarctica, and it is anticipated it will take approximately seven days for the US Coast Guard Cutter to reach Commonwealth Bay, depending upon weather and ice conditions.
The Polar Star left its homeport of Seattle in early December 2013 bound first for Australia on one of its primary missions, 'Operation Deep Freeze', which requires it to break a channel through the sea ice of McMurdo Sound to re-supply and re-fuel the U.S. Antarctic Program’s (USAP) McMurdo Station on Ross Island, but that mission will be put on hold until assistance has been rendered first to the ice beset vessels.
The Coast Guard informs that this is the first time since 2006 that the Polar Star has made this journey, having recently completed a three-year, $90 million overhaul. The 399 ft long cuttter is the U.S. Coast Guard’s only active heavy polar ice breaker, having a maximum speed of 18 knots. It is able to continuously break six feet of ice at three knots, and able to break 21 feet of ice by backing and ramming.
AMSA adds that RCC Australia will be in regular contact with the relevant US Coast Guard RCC at Alameda, California, and the captain of the Polar Star during its journey to Antarctica.