Polar Star, the nation’s only heavy icebreaker, returned from its 147-day mission in support of the U.S Antarctic Program, and went directly into dry dock at Vallejo, California, rather than to its Seattle homeport.
Work began on phase two of a five-year, $75-million Service Life Extension Program for the Polar Star in early April. The Coast Guard is replacing antiquated technology to ensure the longevity of the operational heavy icebreaker while in dry dock this year, updates that support the Coast Guard’s enduring commitment to Antarctic operations.
The 140-member Polar Star crew departed Seattle on Nov. 13, 2021 for the cutter’s 25th Operation Deep Freeze deployment and traveled 24,300 nautical miles to Antarctica and back.
Coast Guard officials said that the cutter made several international port calls including stops in Wellington and Lyttelton, New Zealand and Hobart, Tasmania, Australia. While in New Zealand, Polar Star’s crew hosted the U.S. Ambassador to New Zealand and members of the Royal New Zealand Navy.
While in Antarctica, Polar Star transited through more than 450 miles of pack ice and broke a 37-mile channel through seven-foot thick fast ice to McMurdo Station to allow the safe transit and offload of the supply vessels Ocean Giant and Maersk Peary.
Polar Star also partnered with the Royal New Zealand Navy to escort the ice-capable logistics ship HMNZS Aotearoa for its first trip to McMurdo Station.
The icebreaker transited to the Bay of Whales on Feb. 17, setting a record for the furthest south any vessel has navigated, reaching 78 degrees 44 minutes 1.32 seconds south latitude, keeping about 500 yards from the ever-shifting Ross Ice Shelf. The cutter also surveyed 396 nautical miles of the ice shelf for future navigational use.
Polar Star spent a total of 65 days in Antarctica, making it the longest Operation Deep Freeze deployment completed by a Coast Guard polar icebreaker in 18 years.
This year marks the 66th iteration of Operation Deep Freeze, an annual military service mission in support of the National Science Foundation, the lead agency for the U.S.Antarctic Program. Since 1955, the U.S. Department of Defense and the Coast Guard have provided air and maritime support across and around the Antarctic continent.
The Coast Guard has been the sole provider of the nation’s polar-icebreaking capability since 1965. Commissioned in 1976, the Polar Star is the U.S.’s only operational heavy icebreaker. The Coast Guard is increasing its icebreaking fleet with construction of three new Polar Security Cutters (PSC) to ensure a persistent national presence with reliable access to the Polar Regions.