UPDATE: Polar Star Called Off After Ice-Bound Ships Get Free in Antarctica

Tuesday, January 07 2014

The Polar Star stopped in Unalaska last June before undergoing ice trials in the Arctic. /Credit: Audrey Carlsen

Update, Tuesday: The Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Star is standing down from a rescue mission in Antarctica after the vessels it was going to assist broke free on their own.

The Polar Star had been called in to clear a path for two ice-bound vessels: a Russian research ship and a Chinese icebreaker. The Polar Star departed Australia for Antarctica on Saturday and would have arrived on scene Jan. 12.

Allyson Conroy, the Coast Guard’s chief warrant officer for the Pacific Area, says the stranded ships got favorable winds Tuesday and were able to break out of the ice on their own. She says the ships are now in open water.

That means the Polar Star’s services are no longer needed.

Conroy says the icebreaker will now continue on to its primary mission in Antarctica -- to resupply the U.S. Antarctic Program’s McMurdo Station. It’s the first time the cutter has returned to Antarctica since 2006.

The Polar Star is the Coast Guard’s only active heavy-duty icebreaker. It recently had a major overhaul, and it made a stop in Unalaska last June before undergoing ice trials in the Arctic. It’s homeported in Seattle.

Update, Monday: Polar Star Sent to Free Ice-Bound Ships in Antarctica

A newly refurbished Coast Guard icebreaker is en route to Antarctica to free two vessels stuck in ice.

The stuck ships are a Russian research vessel and a Chinese icebreaker, says Allyson Conroy, the Coast Guard’s chief warrant officer for the Pacific Area. The Russian ship has been stranded since before Christmas. The Chinese vessel got stuck when it tried to help.

Conroy says the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star is being sent to the scene. The heavy-duty icebreaker just finished a three-year, $90 million dollar overhaul. It was in Unalaska last June before undergoing ice trials in the Arctic.

The Polar Star set out from Sydney on Saturday.

Conroy says the Chinese ship’s helicopter has evacuated the passengers from the Russian ship, but the vessels’ crews are still on board.

"The Polar Star is heading down there about eight knots right now [on Monday], and we expect them to be on scene on Jan. 12," she says. "Once on scene, they plan to break the ice out around the two ships, once they break a navigational path through the sea ice. And that way the two ships that are beset will then be able to leave the area under their own power."

Conroy says Coast Guard ships are often tasked with breaking ice to keep navigational lanes clear. The Coast Guard Cutter Healy performed one such mission in Alaska in 2010, when it helped a Russian vessel break a channel through sea ice to resupply Nome.

But Conroy says it’s more rare for an icebreaker to have to rescue other ships -- like the Polar Star is setting out to do.

"This search-and-rescue mission that it’s embarking on now is actually kind of unique," she says. "The last time we probably heard about ships being beset in ice -- you can read about in your history books."

This is the first time the Polar Star has been to Antarctica since 2006. After this, it’ll embark on its main mission, which is to break ice to help resupply the U.S. Antarctic Program’s field stations.

World turned upside-down on Thursday, January 16 2014:

Linda Stern (and others), you do realize, of course, that it is summer in Antarctica in January. That means it is tourist season, and there are many, many vessels that do Antarctic cruises with thousands of passengers every single southern hemisphere summer.

David R Bunting on Wednesday, January 08 2014:

Obviously we are relieved that the 52 passengers are rescued and safe. However, most peculiarly the Russian ship MV Akademik Shokalskiy's master's name has been scrupulously not published. That ship was originally a "research" vessel but modified a few years ago into a tourist cruise vessel. Its mission on this expedition, though including some very unessential science, was mainly to make profit from these wealthy "global warmers" on this enjoyable, rather luxurious cruise. Though the basic idea was to show that ice is declining due to global warming, the ship was taken into this area where ice, at least at times, is instead increasing, "rebuilding" in the blog of the expedition leader Australian Environmental Professor Gurney. Could it be that the now-disappeared appointed ship's master refused to endanger the ship by taking it into this ice "rebuilding" area, but that Gurney personally or through the ship's owner replaced the master, commanding the ship to enter the area where he insisted ice was declining? I suspect Gurney and his "global warmers" got hoist on their own petard!
Their being trapped in increasing ice when they were trying to prove that ice was diminishing has cast serious and highly visible doubt on their claims of diminishing ice. Their rescue has cost millions. By diverting the rescue ships from their ongoing scientific work smack dab in the middle of the very short Antarctic summer, they wiped out significant real science that was expensively ongoing. They caused both Russia and China to beg for rescue from the United States as knight in shining armor, surely a black eye for those nations.
Hoist on their own petard, I say!

linda stern on Tuesday, January 07 2014:

how much is all of the costing!!! yikes what the heck r they doing out there in January to begin with? how much did the 1st rescue cost?
didn't they ever see or read about the Titanic?

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