USCG Icebreaker ‘Polar Star’ Sent to Rescue Vessel Stuck in Ice Off Antarctica

The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star, a heavy icebreaker homeported in Seattle, breaks a parallel channel in the ice beside a previous channel near the National Science Foundation's McMurdo Station, Antarctica, Jan. 15, 2015. Photo: U.S. Coast Guard
The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star, a heavy icebreaker homeported in Seattle, breaks a parallel channel in the ice beside a previous channel near the National Science Foundation’s McMurdo Station, Antarctica, Jan. 15, 2015. Photo: U.S. Coast Guard

The U.S. Coast Guard heavy icebreaker USCGC Polar Star’ has been called on to respond to a 207-foot fishing vessel with 27 people aboard that is stuck in thick ice approximately 900 miles northeast of McMurdo Sound, Antarctica.

The Australian-flagged FV Antarctic Chieftain contacted Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand after becoming beset in ice, reporting that three of its four propellers have been damaged by ice and it has lost its ability to maneuver.

RCC New Zealand has diverted U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star, homeported in Seattle, to respond to the vessel. The 150-person crew of Polar Star was deployed to McMurdo Station, Antarctica, as part of Operation Deep Freeze, which provides military logistical support to the U.S. Antarctic Program managed by the National Science Foundation. The crew had just completed their mission at McMurdo Station when they diverted to aid the vessel in distress on Tuesday at 9:15 p.m.

“The seas of Antarctica are treacherous and unforgiving,” said U.S. Coast Guard Vice Adm. Charles W. Ray, the commander of Pacific Area. “This incident is a sobering reminder of the importance of the U.S. icebreaker fleet as we see increased human activity in the Polar Regions.”

Polar Star will need to steam more than 330 miles to reach the vessel. Ice in the some areas has been reported to be 9 feet thick, with 35 mph winds and heavy snowfall, according to the USCG. The crew of Polar Star is scheduled to reach the Antarctic Chieftain Thursday at approximately 10 p.m.

Once on scene, the crew of the Polar Star attempt to free the Antarctic Chieftain from the ice, and the New Zealand-flagged fishing vessel Janas is schedule to escort or tow the vessel to the nearest safe harbor. The FV Janas is approximately 600-miles away from the Antarctic Chieftain’s position, the Coast Guard said.

“The considerable geographic distances and extreme environmental conditions make this a complex rescue mission; however, we’re confident in our ability to reach the Antarctic Chieftain and committed to ensuring the safety of life at sea no matter the challenges,” said Capt. Matthew Walker, commanding officer of Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star.

The 399-foot Polar Star is nearly 40-years old and the nation’s only heavy icebreaker capable of operating in the thick Antarctic ice.