The 159 crewmembers of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star (WAGB 10) arrived at McMurdo Station last week, following a 58-day transit from the United States. The cutter departed its homeport of Seattle on Nov. 26.

This year marks the Polar Star’s 23rd journey to Antarctica in support of Operation Deep Freeze, an annual joint military service mission to resupply the United States Antarctic stations, in support of the National Science Foundation, the lead agency for the United States Antarctic Program.

The 399-foot, 13,000-ton Polar Star arrived after creating a 23-mile channel through the ice to McMurdo Sound, which will enable the offload of over 19.5 million pounds of dry cargo and 7.6 million gallons of fuel from three logistic vessels. Together these three ships carry enough fuel and critical supplies to sustain NSF operations throughout the year until Polar Star returns in 2021.

The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star moves through pack ice Dec. 28, 2019, about 200 miles north of McMurdo Station, Antarctica. The 43-year-old Polar Star is the nation's only heavy icebreaker, and the crew is heading to McMurdo Station to escort refuel and resupply ships through the ice, which can be as thick as 10 feet. This year marks the 64th iteration of the operation known as Operation Deep Freeze. U.S. Coast Guard photograph by Senior Chief Petty Officer NyxoLyno Cangemi.

The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star moves through pack ice Dec. 28, 2019, about 200 miles north of McMurdo Station, Antarctica. The 43-year-old Polar Star is the nation's only heavy icebreaker, and the crew is heading to McMurdo Station to escort refuel and resupply ships through the ice, which can be as thick as 10 feet. This year marks the 64th iteration of the operation known as Operation Deep Freeze. U.S. Coast Guard photograph by Senior Chief Petty Officer NyxoLyno Cangemi.

Each year, the Polar Star crew creates a navigable channel through seasonal and multi-year ice, sometimes as much as 21-feet thick, to allow refuel and resupply ships to reach McMurdo Station. Check out the video below:

“I am immensely proud of all the hard work and dedication the men and women of the Polar Star demonstrate each and every day,” said Greg Stanclik, commanding officer of the Polar Star. “Maintaining and operating a 44-year-old ship in the harshest of environments takes months of planning and preparation, long workdays and missed holidays, birthdays and anniversaries with loved ones. The Polar Star crew truly embodies the ethos of the Antarctic explorers who came before us—courage, sacrifice and devotion.”

The crew of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star (WAGB-10) poses for a group photo Jan. 2, 2020, about 10 miles north of McMurdo Station, Antarctica. U.S. Coast Guard photograph by Senior Chief Petty Officer NyxoLyno Cangemi.

The crew of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star (WAGB-10) poses for a group photo Jan. 2, 2020, about 10 miles north of McMurdo Station, Antarctica. U.S. Coast Guard photograph by Senior Chief Petty Officer NyxoLyno Cangemi.

Crew members from the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star (WAGB-10) conduct ice rescue training Jan. 19, 2020, about seven miles north of McMurdo Station, Antarctica. The crew of the Polar Star is participating in Operation Deep Freeze – the U.S. military’s contribution to the U.S. Antarctic Program, which is managed by the National Science Foundation. U.S. Coast Guard photograph by Senior Chief Petty Officer NyxoLyno Cangemi.

Crew members from the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star (WAGB-10) conduct ice rescue training Jan. 19, 2020, about seven miles north of McMurdo Station, Antarctica. The crew of the Polar Star is participating in Operation Deep Freeze – the U.S. military’s contribution to the U.S. Antarctic Program, which is managed by the National Science Foundation. U.S. Coast Guard photograph by Senior Chief Petty Officer NyxoLyno Cangemi.

Commissioned in 1976, the Polar Star is the United States’ only operational heavy icebreaker. Reserved for Operation Deep Freeze each year, the ship spends the winter breaking ice near Antarctica, and when the mission is complete, returns to dry dock in order to conduct critical maintenance and repairs in preparation for the next Operation Deep Freeze mission.

If a catastrophic event, such as getting stuck in the ice, were to happen to the Coast Guard Cutter Healy in the Arctic or to the Polar Star near Antarctica, the U.S. Coast Guard is left without a self-rescue capability.

By contrast, Russia currently operates more than 50 icebreakers—several of which are nuclear powered.

U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Daniel Darder emerges from a decompression chamber Jan. 6, 2020, following a simulated training emergency aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star (WAGB-10) approximately 10 miles north of McMurdo Station, Antarctica. Darder is a Coast Guard diver, and the decompression chamber allows the crew to perform lifesaving procedures in the event of a dive emergency. The crew of the Polar Star, a 399-foot heavy icebreaker, is working to break a channel in the ice surrounding McMurdo Station in order to bring in refuel and resupply vessels as part of Operation Deep Freeze — the U.S. military’s contribution to the National Science Foundation-managed, civilian U.S. Antarctic Program. U.S. Coast Guard photograph by Senior Chief Petty Officer NyxoLyno Cangemi.

U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Daniel Darder emerges from a decompression chamber Jan. 6, 2020, following a simulated training emergency aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star (WAGB-10) approximately 10 miles north of McMurdo Station, Antarctica. Darder is a Coast Guard diver, and the decompression chamber allows the crew to perform lifesaving procedures in the event of a dive emergency. The crew of the Polar Star, a 399-foot heavy icebreaker, is working to break a channel in the ice surrounding McMurdo Station in order to bring in refuel and resupply vessels as part of Operation Deep Freeze — the U.S. military’s contribution to the National Science Foundation-managed, civilian U.S. Antarctic Program. U.S. Coast Guard photograph by Senior Chief Petty Officer NyxoLyno Cangemi.

The Coast Guard has been the sole provider of the nation’s polar icebreaking capability since 1965, and is seeking to increase its icebreaking fleet with six new polar security cutters to ensure continued national presence and access to the Polar Regions.

In April, the Coast Guard awarded VT Halter Marine Inc. of Pascagoula, Mississippi, a contract for the design and construction of the Coast Guard’s lead polar security cutter, which will be homeported in Seattle. The contract also includes options for the construction of two additional PSCs.

"Replacing the Coast Guard's icebreaker fleet is paramount," said Vice Adm. Linda Fagan, commander of the Coast Guard's Pacific Area. "Our ability to clear a channel and allow for the resupply of the United States' Antarctic stations is essential for continued national presence and influence on the continent."

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star breaks ice Jan. 16, 2020, near the ice pier of McMurdo Station, Antarctica. The crew of the Polar Star is participating in Operation Deep Freeze – the U.S. military’s contribution to the U.S. Antarctic Program, which is managed by the National Science Foundation. U.S. Coast Guard photograph by Senior Chief Petty Officer NyxoLyno Cangemi.

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star breaks ice Jan. 16, 2020, near the ice pier of McMurdo Station, Antarctica. The crew of the Polar Star is participating in Operation Deep Freeze – the U.S. military’s contribution to the U.S. Antarctic Program, which is managed by the National Science Foundation. U.S. Coast Guard photograph by Senior Chief Petty Officer NyxoLyno Cangemi.

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