The US Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Star arrived back at her homeport of Seattle, Washington on Mar 11 after an eventful 105 day Antarctic patrol during the southern summer earlier this year.
The arrival of the Polar Star, the USCG’s only heavy icebreaker, marked the end of the 63rd annual Operation Deep Freeze, the joint military service mission in support of the National Science Foundation, the lead agency for the US Antarctic Programme.
The USCG has assisted the programme since 1955 and the Polar Star left Seattle last Nov 27 for her sixth deployment in as many years.
This season, problems started as the 43-year-old cutter headed south. One of the electrical systems began to smoke, causing damage to wiring in an electrical switchboard and one of the ship’s two evaporators used to make drinkable water failed. The switchboard was repaired by the crew and parts for the evaporator were delivered to the ship during a call at Wellington, New Zealand.
The Polar Star was heading for the main base in McMurdo Sound and she had to break through 16.5 miles of ice, 6ft to 10ft thick, to open a channel to the McMurdo Station’s pier, and she was then refuelled during the three-day visit.
On Jan 30, the Polar Star escorted the US container ship Ocean Giant, 15,549gt, chartered by the US Military Sealift Command, through the channel. The ship carried 10mn lbs of goods and 499 containers were unloaded to resupply the McMurdo Station, the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station and other US field camps for the coming 12 months.
During icebreaking, the cutter’s centre line shaft seal began leaking, allowing water to flood into the ship. Coast Guard and Navy divers had to enter the water to apply a patch outside the hull then engineers, in dry suits, entered the 30-deg water, now slowly coming in, to repair the seal around the shaft.
The USCG has the only US Polar icebreaking capability, with the Polar Star and the medium icebreaker Healy. In contrast, Russia currently operates more than 50 icebreakers, including several that are nuclear-powered.