Military Sealift Command-chartered container ship MV Ocean Giant is currently conducting cargo offloads at McMurdo Station, Antarctica, in support of MSC’s annual resupply mission in support of Operation Deep Freeze, the annual Joint Task Force Support for Antarctica mission to resupply the remote scientific outpost.
Ocean Giant, arrived at the remote Antarctica base’s ice-pier Jan. 25, with 409 pieces of cargo of nearly 7 million pounds of supplies such as frozen and dry food stores, building materials, vehicles, and electronic equipment and parts; 80 percent of the materials needed for the winter over period. The ship was met by members of Navy Cargo Handling Battalion One who are working around-the-clock offloading the cargo.
While cargo operations in any environment are challenging, working in Antarctica is truly a fight with Mother Nature. While it is summer in Antarctica, the conditions on the ice are not the same summer condition we have in the Northern Hemisphere. At McMurdo Station, summer temperatures hover in the single digits and below zero DAILY. The icy winds from Mt Erebus, known to be the coldest place on earth, blow straight at the ship, sometimes upwards of 20 knots or more, making for long, bone chilling days.
Working in the frozen environment of Antarctica means large amounts of snow and ice, something most MSC missions, don’t experience. This year, large pieces of ice made access to the ice-pier challenging, having the expertise of an “Ice Pilot” onboard Ocean Giant allowed movement through the channel and access to the ice pier without incident.
“The ‘Ice Pilot’ onboard Ocean Giant, Pete Stalkus really made it possible for us to get to the ice-pier successfully,” explained Larry Larsson, MSC’s ODF coordinator in Antarctica. “With over twenty eight years of experience captaining cargo vessels through the storms of the world’s southern oceans and the ice packs of the Ross Sea, Mr. Stalkus met the challenge to pilot the Ocean Giant slowly through the frozen approach to the pier front. The ship safely arrived causing no damage to the pier. It was truly a team effort with the crew of Ocean Giant.”
Challenges aren’t confined to the ice pier. Flight operations have also been impacted this year. Thawing has caused the station’s runway to be deemed unable to accommodate the weight of the large C-17 planes that fly in and out of the station carrying cargo and moving passengers. This year’s ODF mission has been confined to using only smaller C-130 planes to move the nearly 400 personnel supporting the ODF mission, which can mean delays in travel plans and longer stays on station and tight accommodations once on a flight.
Following its off load, Ocean Giant will be loaded with retrograde cargo for transportation off the continent, including ice core samples carried back to the United States in sub-zero freezer containers, as well as trash and recyclable materials for disposal and equipment no longer required on station. Ocean Giant began its journey in Port Hueneme, Calif., Dec. 30, 2015. The ship stopped briefly in New Zealand before making the transit to McMurdo Sound, Antarctica. Ocean Giant is the first of two MSC chartered ships supporting ODF 2016. The tanker ship MV Maersk Perry will arrive early in February with nearly 3.5 million gallons of diesel fuel, jet fuel and gasoline; 100 percent of the fuel needed for the year.
Operation Deep Freeze is a joint service, on-going Defense Support to Civilian Authorities activity in support of theNational 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.