Commandant to recognize Coast Guardsmen who used ingenuity to fix cutter, save mission

Polar StarSEATTLE – The Coast Guard’s top officer will recognize three local Coast Guardsmen for their quick-thinking and ingenuity that helped save the mission of the nation’s only heavy icebreaker during a recent deployment to Antarctica Thursday at 9:30 a.m.

U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft will visit with the crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star, currently in dry dock at Vigor Shipyard in Seattle, where he will recognize Petty Officer 1st Class Kevin Oakes, Petty Officer 3rd Class Augustin Foguet, and Seaman Manon Mullen. He will also present the crew a Coast Guard Unit Commendation Award for their efforts during two separate Antarctic deployments.

Foguet, a damage controlman aboard Polar Star, and Mullen, a deck hand aboard the Polar Star, helped repair the cutter’s thrust bearing bracket after it suffered a catastrophic failure while the cutter was in 6- to 8-foot thick ice in Antarctica Jan. 23. The thrust bearing bracket is a series of beams about the size of an SUV that hold up the cutter’s shaft, which is the component of the cutter that spins the propeller to move the cutter through the water and break ice.

The crew led a 36-hour long repair to fix the thrust bearing bracket, which had become structurally unstable and could not safely support the weight of the shaft. Foguet was part of team that crawled into the cramped spaces of the thrust bearing bracket to weld the structure back together. Mullen helped prepare the area for welding, conducted watches to prevent fire from the around-the-clock welding operation and assisted with cleaning the area in preparation for operations.

Oakes, an electrician’s mate aboard the Polar Star, used a surfboard repair kit to fix one of the cutter’s generators after the system shorted out and began smoking. The crew had lost power to one of their propellers en route to Antarctica leaving them with reduced power Dec. 13. The crew could not get specially designed replacement parts for the 40-year-old generator in time for the crew to execute their mission to Antarctica; however, with a little online research and brainstorming, Oakes used one of his shipmate’s surfboard repair kits to fabricate a new replacement part allowing the Polar Star’s crew to continue their mission.

The crew of the Cutter Polar Star responded to four general emergencies during their most recent deployment to Antarctica. A “general emergency” is a situation in which the crew and the cutter are in serious danger if the not remedied quickly. The crew experienced three fires and one major lube oil leak, which can quickly ignite into fire.

The Coast Guard has been the sole operator and custodian of the nation’s polar icebreaking capability since 1965, providing assured access in both the Arctic and Antarctic regions. National Arctic Region policy emphasizes the importance of the Arctic and the broad interests our nation has in the region and our icebreakers are a key component of our strategy there. The Coast Guard utilizes U.S. Coast Guard Cutters Healy and Polar Star to meet present day icebreaking needs in the Arctic and Antarctic.

In 2013, Polar Star was officially reactivated and returned to the fleet and reassumed its mission. It performs variety of missions while operating in Polar Regions. During Antarctic deployments, the crew’s breaks a channel through the sea ice to resupply the McMurdo Research Station in the Ross Sea. Resupply ships use the channel to bring food, fuel, and other goods to make it through another winter. Polar Star also serves as a scientific research platform with five laboratories and accommodations for up to 20 scientists.

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