America’s only heavy icebreaker departed its homeport in Seattle in mid-November with a crew of 159 U.S. Coast Guard members, headed toward Antarctica.
This year marks Coast Guard cutter Polar Star’s 25th journey to Antarctica in support of Operation Deep Freeze, an annual joint military mission to resupply U.S. Antarctic stations in support of the National Science Foundation, the lead agency for the United States Antarctic Program.
Through Operation Deep Freeze, the U.S. Coast Guard provides direct logistical support to the foundation and maintains a regional presence that preserves Antarctica as a scientific refuge.
Each year, the Polar Star crew breaks a navigable channel through ice, sometimes as much as 21 feet thick, to allow fuel and supply ships to reach McMurdo Station, the largest Antarctic station and the logistics hub of the U.S. Antarctic Program.
“Maintaining and operating a 45-year-old ship in the harshest environment on the planet makes for arduous duty, but the women and men aboard Polar Star are committed to our important mission,” said the icebreaker’s commanding officer, Capt. William Woityra. “The team is excited for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
The Coast Guard said in a statement that it’s recapitalizing its polar icebreaker fleet in order to “ensure continued access to the Polar regions, project U.S. sovereignty, and to protect the country’s economic, environmental, and national security interests.”
“It’s vitally important that the U.S. maintains its leadership role in Antarctica,” said Coast Guard Pacific Area Vice Adm. Michael McAllister, commander, Coast Guard Pacific Area. “The Coast Guard has an enduring commitment to the U.S. Antarctic Program through the Deep Freeze mission to provide uninhibited access to the region. We are proud to support a 60-year legacy of peaceful international cooperation.”