Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star navigates around icebergs, through heavy snow to reach vessel

cg-D11ALAMEDA, Calif. – A U.S. Coast Guard crew is en route to assist a 207-foot fishing vessel with 26 people aboard beset in ice approximately 900 miles northeast of McMurdo Sound, Antarctica.

The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star is attempting to reach the crew of an Australian-flagged fishing vessel, Antarctic Chieftain, who contacted Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand Tuesday evening for assistance after becoming trapped in the Antarctic ice. The crew of 40-year-old cutter has reported heavy, snow, wind and ice conditions at times as well as large icebergs along their course.

“We are navigating through heavy pack ice, dodging massive ice bergs that range in size from a Home Depot to some that are miles across, often in low visibility conditions,” said Capt. Matthew Walker, commanding officer of the Polar Star. “The mission…we are now engaged (in) demonstrates the Coast Guard’s core mission to save lives at sea – in any continents’ waters. Polar Star is proud to be able to assist New Zealand in the rescue of the Australian fishing vessel Antarctic Chieftain.”

The Antarctic Chieftain suffered damage to three of its four propeller blades when it became stuck in the ice and has lost its ability to maneuver. According to Mr. Mike Hill, the manager of RCC New Zealand and Safety Services, the fishing boat’s hull was not damaged and the crew of 26 is not at risk. There has been no reported oil spill or environmental impact.

RCC New Zealand requested U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star, homeported in Seattle, to respond to the Antarctic Chieftain’s position. The 150-person crew of Polar Star was deployed to McMurdo Station, Antarctica, as part of Operation Deep Freeze, which provides military logistical support to the U.S. Antarctic Program managed by the National Science Foundation.

Polar Star is now about 125 miles from the Antarctic Chieftain. The crew of Polar Star is scheduled to reach the Antarctic Chieftain Thursday at approximately 10 p.m. pacific standard time

The Polar Star will have to break the ice around the Antarctic Chieftain to reach it. If the vessel’s propulsion is inoperable, the Polar Star may have to tow the vessel from the ice field.

“Towing is always challenging, this evolution poses more risk because of the harsh weather and extensive ice coverage,” said Lt. j.g. Joel Wright, Polar Star’s operations officer.

Once the Antarctic Chieftain is freed from the ice, the New Zealand-flagged fishing vessel Janas is scheduled to escort or tow the vessel to the nearest safe harbor. Janas is now approximately 750-miles away from the Antarctic Chieftain’s position.

The Polar Star is the nation’s only heavy icebreaker capable of operating in the thick Antarctic ice for a mission such as breaking out the Antarctic Chieftain or clearing McMurdo Sound for the annual resupply of McMurdo Station. The 399-foot cutter is one of the largest ships in the Coast Guard and one of the world’s most powerful non-nuclear icebreakers.

Maritime New Zealand manages RCC New Zealand, which is responsible for all major maritime and aviation search and rescue missions within New Zealand’s search and rescue region. Maritime New Zealand is responsible for search and rescue, maritime environmental protection, maritime transportation and numerous other maritime missions in New Zealand.

Pacific Area is the Coast Guard’s regional command element and force provider for maritime safety, security, and stewardship in the Pacific. The Coast Guard’s Pacific Area encompasses six of the seven continents, 71 countries, and more than 74 million square miles of ocean — from the U.S. Western States to Asia, and from the Arctic to Antarctica.

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