The U.S. Coast Guard’s sole heavy icebreaker, USCGC Polar Star, is set to return to her homeport of Seattle on Friday from the ship’s first deployment to Antarctica since the completion of a major overhaul.
The USCGC Polar Star and her 140 crew are scheduled to arrive home following a 108-day deployment as part of Operation Deep Freeze 2014, an annual resupply mission for McMurdo Station in support of the U.S.’ Antarctic Program.
Polar Star departed Seattle December 3, 2013 and has made port calls in Honolulu, Sydney, Australia, McMurdo Station, Antarctica, and Tahiti, French Polynesia.
Upon arrival in Antartica, Polar Star broke a navigable shipping lane through 12 miles of ice in McMurdo Sound, allowing for ships such as the Maersk Peary tanker and Maersk Illinois to deliver vital fuel and supplies to sustain McMurdo and South Pole stations for the next 12 months.
In early January, the ship was also diverted to assist in the rescue effort for the Russian expedition vessel, Akademik Shokalsiky, and a Chinese icebreaker that famously became stuck in ice for weeks over the holidays. Shifting ice however freed both the ships prior to Polar Star’s arrival.
The Polar Star is recently out of a three-year $90 million overhaul by Vigor Shipyards based in Seattle. Having completed a reactivation that began four years ago, this deployment marked the first time in six years that a U.S. icebreaker has supported Operation Deep Freeze.
Prior 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 last summer. During the trials, Polar Star spent weeks in the Beaufort Sea north of Barrow, Alaska testing all of its modes of propulsion, and validating the operation of its six main diesel engines and three gas turbines.
The 399-foot Polar Star is one of two polar-class icebreakers operated by the U.S. Coast Guard and was commissioned in January 1976. The second ship in the polar-class, USCGC Polar Sea, has been out of service since 2010, but it seems any plans to dismantle the ship have been put on hold. The USCG also has a medium icebreaker, the USCGC Healy.