Military Sealift Command-chartered container ship MV BBC Ems departed McMurdo Station, Antarctica, Feb. 13 after delivering more than 84,000 square feet of vital supplies in support of Operation Deep Freeze. ODF is an annual U.S. Air Force-led mission to resupply the remote scientific outpost.
BBC Ems followed MSC tanker USNS Richard G. Matthiesen, which delivered more than 5.5 million gallons of crucial diesel, gasoline and jet fuel to McMurdo Station Jan. 29 to Feb. 5.
MSC ships deliver 100 percent of the fuel and about 80 percent of the supplies that the researchers and support personnel who live and work across Antarctica – up to 1,100 in the summer months – need to survive and work over the course of a year.
“Resupplying the Antarctic only happens once a year – it’s the window of opportunity,” said John Joerger, tanker project officer at MSC headquarters in Washington, D.C. “If we didn’t provide the fuel and supplies, they would have to shut the station down. They need it for heat, they need it for their vehicles, helicopters and all the things they do. If they don’t have fuel, they can’t survive in the Antarctic.”
An MSC dry cargo ship and tanker have made the dangerous voyage to Antarctica since the station was established in 1955.
BBC Ems arrived at McMurdo Station’s ice pier Feb. 5 carrying cargo that was loaded on board in Port Hueneme, Calif. Supplies aboard the 469-foot ship including food, household goods and research equipment; “everything you need to run a small city for a year,” said Timothy Pickering, cargo project officer at MSC headquarters.
It took 59 Sailors from the Williamsburg, Va.-based Navy Cargo Handling Battalion One and 65 members of the New Zealand Defence Force working around-the-clock three days to offload BBC Ems’ cargo. They then loaded the empty ship with cargo to be transported off the continent, including ice core samples carried back to the United States in three 40-foot refrigerated containers. The ship also took on trash and recyclable materials for disposal.
This year marks the final Antarctic voyage for MSC’s T-5 tanker class, of which Matthiesen is a part. Five tankers were built in the mid-1980s and chartered by MSC until 2003, when the command purchased four of the five.
“This is the last McMurdo Station port call for a T-5 tanker, a milestone in 26 years of dedicated tanker support by MSC, the Champion-class tankers and the U.S. merchant seamen who crew them in support of Operation Deep Freeze,” said Rear Adm. Mark H. Buzby, commander, MSC. “MSC will continue support to Operation Deep Freeze, but this marks the end of a proud era for the Champion-class tankers.”
The T-5s have been replaced for most Department of Defense fuel transport missions by two newly built tankers that came under charter to MSC in late 2010 and early 2011- MT Evergreen State and MT Empire State. Because these ships are not ice-strengthened, MSC will charter tankers on the commercial market to fill future ice missions.