The United States’ only operational heavy icebreaker, the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star (WAGB 10), made a scheduled port call, Thursday, in Chowder Bay, Australia.
The Polar Star’s Chowder Bay port call is part of the crew’s annual journey to Antarctica where they will support Operation Deep Freeze, a joint military service mission to resupply the United States Antarctic stations of the National Science Foundation, the lead agency for the United States Antarctic Program.
This year marks Polar Star’s 26th voyage to Antarctica. Every year, a joint and total force team work together to complete a successful Operation Deep Freeze season. Military members from the U.S. Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, and Navy work together through Joint Task Force-Support Forces Antarctica to continue the tradition of providing U.S. military support. Operation Deep Freeze works closely with other Antarctic programs to include those of Australia, New Zealand, and Italy, as well as those Nations’ respective defense forces.
“It’s an honor to carry out this historic and unique mission alongside the National Science Foundation and United States Antarctic Program, in conjunction with the Joint Task Force-Support Forces Antarctica,” said Capt. Keith Ropella, Polar Star’s commanding officer. “Our crew’s hard work and sacrifice ensure the success of the Polar Star’s contributions to the Operation Deep Freeze mission.”
The Polar Star provides heavy icebreaking capabilities to facilitate sealift, seaport access, bulk fuel supply, and port cargo handling for three U.S. research stations in Antarctica with McMurdo Station being the largest.
Polar Star’s ice breaking capabilities enable the safe delivery of critical supplies to sustain USAP’s year-round operations and support international partnership in the harsh Antarctic environment. It’s vitally important that the U.S. maintains a maritime domain presence in Antarctica to protect uninhibited international access to the region. A Coast Guard heavy polar icebreaker has provided this capability for more than 30 years.
Operation Deep Freeze is one of the more challenging U.S. military peacetime missions due to the harsh environment in which it is conducted. Antarctica is the coldest, windiest, most inhospitable continent on the globe, and each trip requires careful planning and coordination. U.S. military service members are trained and ready to support this vital mission despite the austere environment.
“The Polar Star’s crew receives unique and specialized icebreaking training to ensure they are properly equipped to carry out this vital mission,” said Lt. Cmdr. Benjamin Litts, Polar Star’s operations officer. “The success of U.S. missions in the Polar Regions remains a top priority for the Coast Guard.”
The Polar Star is the United States’ only asset capable of providing access to both Polar Regions. It is a 399-foot heavy polar icebreaker commissioned in 1976, weighing 13,500 tons, 84-feet wide, with a 34-foot draft. The six diesel and three gas turbine engines produce up to 75,000 horsepower.
Chris Sattler photo