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The crew of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star (WAGB 10) walks toward the Ross Ice Shelf, Antarctica, Feb. 3, 2024. U.S. Coast Guard Photo

The crew of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star (WAGB 10) walks toward the Ross Ice Shelf, Antarctica, Feb. 3, 2024. U.S. Coast Guard Photo

U.S. Coast Guard Icebreaker ‘Polar Star’ Returns from 27th Antarctic Deployment

Mike Schuler
Total Views: 2172
April 5, 2024

The U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker USCGC Polar Star and its crew have returned to the U.S. after a 138-day deployment to Antarctica.

This year marked the Polar Star’s 27th journey to Antarctica and the 64th iteration of Operation Deep Freeze—the annual resupply mission to McMurdo Station in support of the National Science Foundation’s United States Antarctic Program. The crew left Seattle on November 15, 2023, and traversed over 27,500 miles, making stops on four continents.

The Polar Star made logistical stops in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Sydney, and Hobart, Australia. In Hobart, the crew played host to the U.S. Ambassador for Australia, Australian parliament members, and local industry partners.

Upon reaching Antarctica, the Polar Star broke a 38-mile channel through 12-foot-thick ice, providing access for cargo vessels to McMurdo Station. The crew helped in the delivery of nine million gallons of fuel and 80 million pounds of cargo, which contributes to scientific endeavors on the icy continent. After 51 days of Antarctic operations, the crew departed the region on February 14.

The return journey included stops in Auckland, New Zealand, Yokosuka, Japan, and Dutch Harbor, Alaska. In Yokosuka, the crew hosted a formal reception aboard the cutter, fostering relationships with senior maritime representatives from the United States, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand.

Capt. Keith Ropella, the Polar Star’s commanding officer, praised the crew’s commitment and teamwork amid the various challenges.

“Despite adverse weather, difficult ice, and formidable mechanical challenges, the crew of Polar Star not only achieved their mission but did so with remarkable expertise and teamwork, proof of their devotion to duty and dedication to their shipmates,” he said.

The Polar Star is now in Vallejo, California, for the fourth phase of its five-year Service Life Extension Project (SLEP). The SLEP is an initiative to update targeted systems and conduct significant maintenance to extend the cutter’s service life.

Commissioned in 1976, the Seattle-based Polar Star is the United States’ only heavy icebreaker. The 399-foot vessel weighs 13,500 tons, with a width of 84 feet and a 34-foot draft. It is powered by six diesel and three gas turbine engines, producing up to 75,000 horsepower.

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