Seattle-based Coast Guard Polar icebreaker returns home following Antarctic mission

The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star, a 399-foot heavy icebreaker, is escorted by the crew of the Westrac II, a 73-foot towing vessel, as they moor to Pier 66 in Seattle, March 17, 2017. The crew returned from a 107-day expedition to Antartica, which involved maintaining the decades-old icebreaker to ensure a year’s worth of supplies and fuel safely reached the National Science Foundation’s McMurdo and Amundsen-Scott South Pole stations. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Amanda Norcross.

The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star, a 399-foot heavy icebreaker, is escorted by the crew of the Westrac II, a 73-foot towing vessel, as they moor to Pier 66 in Seattle, March 17, 2017. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Amanda Norcross.

SEATTLE — Families and friends welcomed home the crew of the Seattle-based Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star, following a 107-day deployment to Antarctica in support of Operation Deep Freeze 2017, the U.S. military component of the National Science Foundation-managed U.S. Antarctic Program.

“When I talked to the crew of Polar Star as they were off the coast of Antarctica last month, I heard firsthand their successes from this deployment, as well as their distinct challenges as they operated a four-decades-old ship,” said Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft.

Polar Star’s crew provided a safe channel through more than 70 miles of thick Antarctic ice for cargo ships, facilitating the delivery of supplies to the National Science Foundation’s McMurdo and Amundsen-Scott South Pole stations on the southernmost continent.

“I could not be more proud of our crew, who remained adaptable and overcame a number of engineering and mechanical issues throughout Polar Star’s deployment,” said Capt. Michael Davanzo, commanding officer of the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star. “Maintaining a decades-old icebreaker is never easy, but our crew of more than 150 people pulled together to ensure a year’s worth of supplies and fuel safely reached McMurdo Station. Without the Coast Guard, the logistics for maintaining research operations in Antarctica would be nearly impossible.”

Polar Star made a scheduled port call in New Zealand after successfully completing operations in Antarctica. The crew also aided the New Zealand Defence Force and local rescue and safety personnel in their response to the Port Hills Wildfire in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Homeported in Seattle, the 399-foot long cutter weighs 13,500 tons, and uses 75,000 horsepower to muscle its way through ice up to 21-feet thick. Built in 1973 and commissioned in 1976, Polar Star is the world’s most powerful non-nuclear icebreaker. The cutter is also the United States’ only operational heavy icebreaker capable of conducting Antarctic resupply missions.

“Well past its service life, Polar Star continues to meet expanded mission demands through the ingenuity and resolve of a talented workforce,” said Zukunft. “Yet, the model is unsustainable, and without suitable replacements, we will fail to meet national objectives in the polar regions at a time when they are needed most.”

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