UPDATE: Polar Star Called Off After Ice-Bound Ships Get Free in Antarctica
Tuesday, January 07 2014
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.