The operation is part of MSC’s annual resupply mission in support of Operation Deep Freeze, the Joint Task Force Support for Antarctica mission to resupply the remote scientific outpost.
The crew of Peary are working with Seabees from Navy Cargo Handling Battalion ONE (NCHB -1) to offload their fuel cargo, at the newly constructed ice-pier, ensuring all safety precautions are taken to protect the ship’s crew and cargo handlers, as well as Antarctica’s fragile environment. The fuel delivery will sustain McMurdo station for the next year.
While working in the remote environment of Antarctica is an adventure, Peary’s adventures came as it traveled to The Ice. In Greece, where the ship’s journey originated, Peary participated in a search and rescue of a survivor of water incident. Peary’s crew sighted the lone survivor with their search lights, in the cold waters, in the middle of the night, and recovered them with a rescue craft.
They then made it through the pirate infested waters of Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, followed by a stop in Fremantle, Australia, where due to COVID-19 restrictions, the crew was not allowed to leave ship.
In past years, the trip across Southern Ocean has been treacherous, due to the thick ice pack. According to Capt. E.M Hatton, Peary’s civilian master, this year, the ship was able to easily make the crossing into Winter’s Bay, where McMurdo Station is located.
“Continuous scrutiny of weather maps and forecasting to find safest routing for dangerous crossings, and having eagle eyes in the ice passage, and locating the lone icebergs kept us safe, said Hatton. “We were delighted to find not much pack ice to navigate through all the way to Winter’s Quarter Bay,” said Hatton.
Once at McMurdo Station, the crew’s attention shifted from the journey to the mission of delivering fuel. According to Hatton, this isn’t as easy as just pumping fuel from the ship to a storage facility. The extreme temperatures and the geography make this extremely challenging, not to mention the safety and security of the natural environment.
Peary is no stranger to the ODF mission, having made the fuel delivery over several years. Because of this, Hatton explained that he leaned on his lessons learned on how to prepare for this year’s mission, and how to anticipate issues that he has encountered in the past.
As Hatton and other people who have supported the ODF mission attest, working in the harsh environment of Antarctica is unlike any other and extremely challenging. Bitterly cold temperatures and harsh winds are physically challenging. Working at “The Bottom of the World” means feelings of isolation as well. Access to the internet means no news, no social media access and no communication with family and friends. This can be hard for many young mariners to accept.
“Having younger and younger crews each year, I have noticed a more dependence on social media of the crew. So on this trip to remoteness where there is no internet for weeks on end seems to add a degree of loneliness,” said Hatton. “The weather can get extreme and the crew have to find within themselves a new endurance for days on end of extreme motions. Outside watches can really temper one’s endurance.”
Despite the challenges of the mission, Hatton recognizes the positive aspects of the ODF mission, noting that crew members who make the trip take away a new sense of accomplishment and pride.
“Having endured a southern ocean crossing leaves an impact of conquering one of the toughest passages known on earth,” he said. “Dealing with extreme conditions and cold leave a memory for sure. Being proud of one’s self, knowing that they have done what other great explores are known for, even if on more modern and safer vessels.”
In addition to a feeling of accomplishment, Hatton and his crew will also have the honor of being the last Peary crew to complete an ODF mission, as the ship is scheduled to be rotated out of the Maersk fleet later this year.
Following completion of fuel operations, Peary will be followed by the MSC chartered ship MV Ocean Giant who will arrive at the ice-pier for cargo offload operations.
Operation Deep Freeze is a joint service, on-going Defense Support to Civilian Authorities activity in support of the National Science Foundation (NSF), lead agency for the United States Antarctic Program. Mission support consists of active duty, Guard and Reserve personnel from the U.S. Air Force, Navy, Army, and Coast Guard as well as Department of Defense civilians and attached non-DOD civilians. ODF operates from two primary locations situated at Christchurch, New Zealand and McMurdo Station, Antarctica. 2022 marks MSC’s return to support of ODF which was paused in 2021 due to the COVID-19 global pandemic. An MSC-chartered cargo ship and tanker have made the challenging voyage to Antarctica every year since the station and its resupply mission were established in 1955.