U.S. Coast Guard cutters over the past four months completed two lengthy journeys, one in support of the U.S. Antarctic stations and a second to counter drug operations in the East Pacific Ocean.
The first began in November with the departure of the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star from its homeport in Seattle; the second began in mid-December at Port Angeles, California, concluding in early February.
Crew aboard the Polar Star, on its 25th journey to Antarctica in support of Operation Deep Freeze, were to spend January and February breaking ice at McMurdo Station for fuel and supply ships, then return to the U.S. west coast in March.
Upon return, the 46-year-old Polar Star, the nation’s solar provider of these crucial icebreaking services, was headed to drydock for maintenance and repair, while the crew returned to the Polar Star’s homeport in Seattle, Coast Guard officials said.
The annual joint military service mission to resupply the U.S. Antarctic stations in support of the National Science Foundation, lead agency for the country’s Antarctic program, began with the departure of the cutter from its Seattle homeport on Nov. 13.
Stephanie Short, section head of NSF’s Antarctic Infrastructure & Logistics, welcomed the return of the icebreaker. “Continuing the U.S. Antarctic Program’s vital operations would simply not be possible without support of the cutter and the hard work of the captain and crew,” she said.
The 157 crewmembers aboard the 399-foot, 13,000-ton cutter reached the Ross Sea of Antarctica on Jan. 3 and began breaking the 37 miles of ice that extended from the ice pier in Winter Quarters Bay at McMurdo Station out to open water. Clearing the channel allowed two supply ships, Maersk Peary and Ocean Giant, to offload over eight million gallons of fuel and 1,000 cargo containers, providing enough fuel, food and critical supplies to sustain the Antarctic Program until the next sealift in the austral summer of 2023.
The Polar Star made international stops in Wellington and Lyttelton, New Zealand, on the way to Antarctica. The cutter also was to partner with the Royal New Zealand Navy’s largest ship, Her Royal Majesty’s New Zealand Ship Aotearoa, to re-supply Scott Base, New Zealand’s year-round Antarctic research facility.
The icebreaker’s arrival at McMudro Station also marked the return of the Polar Star following the onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic. During the 2020-2021 season Polar Star conducted a winter Arctic deployment, trekking to the Arctic Circle to be present in northern high latitudes under winter conditions and to train the next generation of polar sailors. Their efforts achieved a record for the furthest north any American surface vessel has been in winter months.
Crew aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Active, meanwhile, completed a 10,572-mile, 55-day counterdrug operations deployment in the Eastern Pacific Ocean off the coast of Central America and returned to their homeport in Port Angeles, on Feb. 4.
Coast Guard officials said that the fight against drug cartels in the Eastern Pacific requires a united effort in all phases from detection, monitoring and interdictions to criminal prosecutions by U.S. Attorneys’ offices nationwide.
Shortly after getting underway, crew aboard the Active participated in a helicopter proficiency operation off the coast of Southern California. Pilots from numerous Coast Guard air stations and crews from West Coast-based cutters converged on Active for training and proficiency evolutions.
During a 48-hour period, Active’s crew participated in 72 take-offs and landings from the flight deck,
In addition to performing a helicopter inflight refueling and a vertical replenishment. Overall, Active directly assisted in the qualification and certification of eight pilots across two helicopter platforms, in addition to certifying 18 shipboard aviation support crewmembers.
Active’s crew also participated, while moored at San Diego, in a joint air crew and helicopter operation with HITRON (Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron) and Coast Guard Air Station San Francisco. HITRON is a Jacksonville, Florida-based specialized law enforcement unit whose crew are trained to utilize airborne force on non-compliant vessels suspected of violating U.S. and international laws.
Cmdr. Brian Tesson, Active’s commanding officer, said his crew excelled in their assigned missions, including the suppression of transnational crime and narcotics smuggling and training and qualifying activities.