Coast Guard crew rescues 26 people trapped by Antarctic ice
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ALAMEDA, Calif. -- A fishing vessel trapped in Antarctic ice 900-miles northeast of McMurdo Sound, Antarctica, for nearly two weeks is free following an international rescue operation that ended successfully Sunday at approximately 8 p.m.
The Antarctic Chieftain, an Australian-flagged fishing vessel, was rescued by the 150-person crew of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star. The rescue operation spanned more than 860 miles and required the crew to break through 150 miles of thick Antarctic ice and navigate around icebergs that were miles wide.
“We are proud of the commitment and dedication of the Coast Guardsmen aboard Polar Star, but most importantly, we are grateful they were able to safely reach Antarctic Chieftain and rescue 26 people in distress,” said Vice Adm. Charles W. Ray, Pacific Area commander. “This was a complex and dangerous rescue mission; however, the crew rose to the challenge, and they exemplify the Coast Guard’s Core Values of Honor, Respect and Devotion to Duty and our service’s commitment to excellence.”
The crew navigated through difficult weather conditions during the five-day rescue operation including heavy snow fall, high winds and extreme ice conditions. Coast Guardsmen aboard the Polar Star reported whiteout snow conditions early in the operation, and they were required to break through ice that had built up over several years making it extremely thick.
“I doubt any medium icebreaker could have made the rescue since we had to go on turbine to get through the multiyear ice that appeared to be as thick as 20 feet in places. The amount of icebergs in the region suggested that the area was extremely hazardous to navigation,” said Capt. Matthew Walker, the commanding officer of Cutter Polar Star. “This rescue demonstrates the importance of our nation’s only active heavy icebreaker in the Polar Regions.”
Antarctic Chieftain damaged three of its four propeller blades in the ice, which required the Coast Guardsmen aboard Polar Star to tow the vessel through about 60-miles of ice into open water. Towing the 207-foot fishing vessel through heavy ice placed varying strain on the tow line, which broke three times during the rescue mission. Once in open water, the Antarctic Chieftain was able to maneuver under its own power. The crew of the fishing vessel Janas will escort the Antarctic Chieftain to Nelson, New Zealand.
“There were some very happy sailors aboard Antarctic Chieftain upon our arrival,” said Walker. “The ice conditions that we found the fishermen in were dire, more so if Antarctic Chieftain had to stay much longer.”
Coast Guardsmen reached the crew of the fishing vessel Friday after traveling across more than 150 miles of ice. The fishermen requested assistance from Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand Tuesday evening after becoming trapped in the ice. RCC New Zealand requested U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star, homeported in Seattle, to respond to the Antarctic Chieftain’s request for assistance. The 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 crew of Polar Star will continue their journey home to Seattle. The Polar Star is 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 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.
To read the cutter’s blog posts about their, journey please click here - http://coastguard.dodlive.mil/tag/operation-deep-freeze-2015/.