The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star is back at its homeport in Seattle, with its crew of 150, after a 123-day deployment in Antarctica in support of Operation Deep Freeze.
The mission marked the 23rd journey of the nation’s only heavy icebreaker in support of the annual joint military service mission to resupply the US Antarctic stations, in support of the work of the National Science Foundation, the lead agency for the US Antarctic program, and the 63rd iteration of the annual operation.
Now the Polar Star is headed for dry dock for maintenance and repairs in preparation for the next Operation Deep Freeze.
The sixth deployment in as many years for the Polar Star involved travel of more than 26,350 miles through the North Pacific, South Pacific, Indian and Southern oceans.
While in the Southern Ocean, the crew travelled through nearly 500 miles of pack ice and broke through 23 miles of fast ice to create a nearly 18-square mile navigable channel to McMurdo Station in Antarctica. Their efforts allowed two resupply vessels and one tanker to travel to McMurdo Station unescorted to refuel and resupply US Antarctic stations.
The Coast Guard said its 2020 operation required construction of a temporary, modular mobile causeway to replace an ice pier, which disintegrated during Operation Deep Freeze 2018-2019.
Three resupply ships this year needed 23 days to offload 19.6 million pounds of cargo and 7.6 million gallons of fuel, more than double the capacity of previous years. That was enough fuel and critical supplies to sustain NSF operations until the Polar Star returns in 2021.
The cargo included construction materials for a five-year, $460 million Antarctica Infrastructure Modernization for Science project to recapitalize McMurdo Station, South Pole Station and other American outposts on the continent.
Coast Guard officials noted that the United States continues to promote Antarctica’s status as a continent reserved for peace and science in accordance with provisions of the Antarctic Treaty of 1959.
Plans are in progress for a new heavy icebreaker. In April 2019, the Coast Guard awarded VT Halter Marine Inc. of Pascagoula, MI, a contract for design and construction of the Coast Guard’s lead polar security cutter, also to be homeported in Seattle. That contract includes options for construction of two additional polar security cutters.