The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star is scheduled to return to their homeport of Coast Guard Base Seattle at 10 a.m., Friday, March 21, 2014, following a 108-day deployment of Operation Deep Freeze 2014.
Polar Star departed Seattle Dec. 3rd, 2013, and made port calls in Honolulu, Sydney, Australia, McMurdo Station, Antarctica, and Tahiti, French Polynesia.
Having completed a reactivation that began four years ago, this deployment marks the first time in six years that a U.S. icebreaker has supported Operation Deep Freeze, the U.S. Antarctic Program’s resupply efforts of McMurdo Station, Antarctica.
In January, Polar Star departed Sydney to assist in the rescue effort of two ships, the Russian vessel Akademik Shokalsiky and the Chinese vessel Xue Long. These vessels were beset (or stuck) in 15 feet of thick sea ice near Commonwealth Bay, Antarctica. While Polar Star was en route, the shifting ice conditions allowed the two ships to break free from the ice prior to the Coast Guard icebreaker’s arrival.
In Antarctica, Polar Star broke a navigable shipping lane through 12 miles of ice in McMurdo Sound, encountering ice up to 10 feet in thickness. The shipping channel was used by the tanker ship Maersk Peary to deliver approximately three and a half million gallons of fuel to McMurdo residents, allowing the Station to remain operational 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.
The crew of the Polar Star also delivered and deployed nearly one mile of fuel hose to Marble Point, an air station 20 miles west of McMurdo. The new hose replaced a worn out one, and allows the air station to be refueled for the next 15 years.
In February, prior to departing Antarctica, Polar Star hosted Coast Guard Vice Adm. Peter Neffenger, the Deputy Commandant for Operations, who visited Antarctica to observe the operations of the U.S. Antarctic Program. For more than 50 years, the U.S. Coast Guard has deployed to Antarctica in support of Operation Deep Freeze.
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. 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.