Thursday, February 12, 2015

U.S., New Zealand lead Antarctic rescue mission

The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star, a heavy icebreaker homeported in Seattle, breaks a parallel channel in the ice beside a previous channel near the National Science Foundation's McMurdo Station, Antarctica, Jan. 15, 2015. As the area of broken ice widens, southerly winds will push the ice out to sea, allowing supply vessels to deliver cargo to McMurdo Station. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class George Degener)
The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star, a heavy icebreaker homeported in Seattle, breaks a parallel channel in the ice beside a previous channel near the National Science Foundation's McMurdo Station, Antarctica, Jan. 15, 2015. As the area of broken ice widens, southerly winds will push the ice out to sea, allowing supply vessels to deliver cargo to McMurdo Station. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class George Degener)


February 11, 2015 - A U.S. Coast Guard cutter is responding to a 207-foot fishing vessel with 27 people aboard beset in ice approximately 900 miles northeast of McMurdo Sound, Antarctica, Tuesday at 9:15 p.m.
The Australian-flagged fishing vessel, Antarctic Chieftain, contacted Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand after becoming beset in ice. The vessel suffered damage to three of its four propellers when it became stuck in the ice and has lost its ability to maneuver. 
RCC New Zealand diverted U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star, homeported in Seattle, to respond to the Antarctic Chieftain’s position. The 150-person crew of Polar Star was deployed to McMurdo Station, Antarctica, as part of Operation Deep Freeze, which provides military logistical support to the U.S. Antarctic Program managed by the National Science Foundation.
“The seas of Antarctica are treacherous and unforgiving,” said U.S. Coast Guard Vice Adm. Charles W. Ray, the commander of Pacific Area. “This incident is a sobering reminder of the importance of the U.S. icebreaker fleet as we see increased human activity in the Polar Regions.” 
The crew had just completed their mission at McMurdo Station when they diverted to aid the vessel in distress. Polar Star will steam more than 330 miles to reach the vessel. In order to reach the fishing vessel, the cutter’s crew will have to break through several miles of nine-foot thick ice, endure 35 mph winds and navigate through heavy snowfall to reach the Antarctic Chieftain. The crew of Polar Star is scheduled to reach the Antarctic Chieftain Thursday at approximately 10 p.m. 
Polar Star’s crew will free the Antarctic Chieftain from the ice, and the New Zealand-flagged fishing vessel Janas is schedule to escort or tow the vessel to the nearest safe harbor once it’s freed. Janas is approximately 600-miles away from the Antarctic Chieftain’s position. 
“The considerable geographic distances and extreme environmental conditions make this a complex rescue mission; however, we’re confident in our ability to reach the Antarctic Chieftain and committed to ensuring the safety of life at sea no matter the challenges,” said Capt. Matthew Walker, commanding officer of Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star. 
The Polar Star is nearly 40-years old and the nation’s only heavy icebreaker capable of operating in the thick Antarctic ice for a mission such as breaking out the Antarctic Chieftain or clearing McMurdo Sound for the critical annual resupply of McMurdo Station. The 399-foot cutter is one of the largest ships in the Coast Guard and one of the world's most powerful non-nuclear icebreakers. 
Maritime New Zealand manages RCC New Zealand, which is responsible for all major maritime and aviation search and rescue missions within New Zealand’s search and rescue region. Maritime New Zealand is responsible for search and rescue, maritime environmental protection, maritime transportation and numerous other maritime missions in New Zealand. 
Pacific Area is the Coast Guard’s regional command element and force provider for maritime safety, security, and stewardship in the Pacific. The Coast Guard’s Pacific Area encompasses six of the seven continents, 71 countries, and more than 74 million square miles of ocean - from the U.S. Western States to Asia, and from the Arctic to Antarctica.

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