“Coast Guard Icebreaker Polar Star Bound for the Arctic in December” –USNI

The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star cuts through Antarctic ice in the Ross Sea near a large group of seals as the ship’s crew creates a navigation channel for supply ships, January 16, 2017. The resupply channel is an essential part of the yearly delivery of essential supplies to the National Science Foundation’s McMurdo Station.US Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer David Mosley

US Naval Institute News Service reports Polar Star will deploy to the Arctic in December. We knew this was coming, but we have been short of details of when and for how long. This at least indicates it will begin in December. (I will speculate, she will be gone about three months, returning in March to provide a little inport time before going into the yard.)

There seem to be a couple of errors in the story.

“For the first time in almost five decades, the Coast Guard’s heavy icebreaker won’t be supporting Antarctic scientific missions in coming months…”

Coast Guard heavy icebreaker support has not been continuous over that period, at least once, and I believe more than once, the McMurdo break-in was done by non-Coast Guard icebreakers, either contracted foreign icebreakers or the National Science Foundation’s own smaller icebreaker.

“This would be the first Coast Guard operation in the Arctic Ocean since August 1994 when a now-deactivated heavy icebreaker with a Canadian Coast Guard heavy icebreaker reached the North Pole.”

This seems to be missing a qualifier. The Coast Guard has certainly operated in the Arctic since August 1994. There is better information on Polar class operations in the Arctic here, in a Military.com report.

“It will be the first deployment of a U.S. Polar-class icebreaker to the Arctic on a non-science mission (emphasis applied–Chuck) since August 1994, when the heavy icebreaker Polar Sea, now inactive, became one of the first two American surface ships to reach the North Pole.

“In 1998, Polar Star spent three months in the region on a science mission. And in 2009, the Polar Sea conducted a three-month Arctic deployment, also dedicated solely to science.”

7 thoughts on ““Coast Guard Icebreaker Polar Star Bound for the Arctic in December” –USNI

  1. I tried to compile a list of Operation Deep Freezes where foreign icebreakers have been involved using Google. I have also included some additional trivia as well.

    – 2002-2003 (ODF 2003) was the only time USCGC Healy was deployed to Antarctica (together with USCGC Polar Sea)
    – 2003-2004 (ODF 2004) was the last Operation Deep Freeze where both Polar-class icebreakers were deployed to Antarctica
    – in 2004-2005 (ODF 2005), the Russian icebreaker Krasin was assisting USCGC Polar Star while USCGC Polar Sea had to remain at the dry dock
    – in 2005-2006 (ODF 2006), Krasin attempted break-in alone but threw a blade which couldn’t be replaced; USCGC Polar Star was hastily deployed from Seattle (and afterwards placed in caretaker status)
    – in 2006-2007 (ODF 2007), the Swedish icebreaker Oden was chartered to the operation to support USCGC Polar Sea
    – in 2007-2008 (ODF 2008), Oden took the primary role while USCGC Polar Sea was on standby in Seattle
    – in 2008-2009 (ODF 2009) as above
    – in 2009-2010 (ODF 2010) as above
    – in 2010-2011 (ODF 2011) as above (USCGC Polar Sea was inoperable due to engine casualty)
    – in 2011-2012 (ODF 2012), Oden was replaced by the Russian icebreaker Vladimir Ignatyuk (former Canadian offshore icebreaker Arctic Kalvik) after the Swedish government decided to keep Oden in the Baltic Sea
    – in 2012-2013 (ODF 2013), as above (together with RV Nathaniel B. Palmer)
    – in 2013-2014 (ODF 2014), USCGC Polar Star returned to service and no foreign icebreakers were chartered to support it
    – in 2014-2015 (ODF 2015), as above
    – in 2015-2016 (ODF 2016), as above
    – in 2016-2017 (ODF 2017), as above
    – in 2017-2018 (ODF 2018), as above
    – in 2018-2019 (ODF 2019), as above
    – in 2019-2020 (ODF 2020), as above
    – in 2020-2021 (ODF 2021), resupply by sea cancelled due to COVID-19 and USCGC Polar Star is deployed to the Arctic

    In 2015, I sailed past Vladimir Ignatyuk in Murmansk on another icebreaker and one of the officers mentioned that he had been in Antarctica with the vessel. The vessel has seen very little, if any, service since ODF 2013.

  2. There is a lot of talk about the Nome Deep Water port project lately. Even so far as the politicians looking at homeporting a PSC there. The port plans, as laid out by the Corps of Engineers is not sufficient in any way to allow extended porting of an icebreaker at Nome. It looks a lot more like a very small container port and port of refuge. Link to everything you ever wanted to know about a port for Western Alaska. This link goes into detail of every port, not just Nome. https://www.poa.usace.army.mil/Portals/34/docs/civilworks/arcticdeepdraft/ADDMainReportwithoutappendixes.pdf

  3. Polar Star has departed for the Arctic. below is a news release:

    News Release
    U.S. Coast Guard Pacific Area
    Dec. 4, 2020
    Contact: Coast Guard Pacific Area Public Affairs
    Office: (510) 437-3375
    After Hours: (510) 816-1700
    D11-DG-M-PACAREA-PA@uscg.mil
    Pacific Area online newsroom

    Nation’s sole heavy icebreaker departs for Arctic deployment

    SEATTLE – The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star (WAGB 10) departed Friday for a months-long deployment to the Arctic to protect the nation’s maritime sovereignty and security throughout the region.

    The 44-year-old heavy icebreaker will project power and support national security objectives throughout Alaskan waters and into the Arctic, including along the Maritime Boundary Line between the United States and Russia.

    The Polar Star will detect and deter illegal fishing by foreign vessels in the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone and conduct Arctic training essential for developing future icebreaker operators.

    “Polar Star is poised to head into the cold, dark Arctic winter to carry out a historic mission,” said Capt. Bill Woitrya, the cutter’s commanding officer. “The ship is ready, and the crew is enthusiastic to embark on this adventure. We will defend U.S. interests in the region, and continue to hone our proficiency to operate in such a harsh, remote environment.”

    The Polar Star historically departs Seattle each December for Antarctica in support of Operation Deep Freeze, the annual military mission to resupply the United States’ Antarctic stations, in support of the National Science Foundation.

    This year’s maritime resupply at McMurdo Station was cancelled due to COVID safety precautions, and a limited resupply will be conducted via aircraft. However, Operation Deep Freeze is an enduring mission that requires a heavy icebreaker for a full resupply, and the Coast Guard anticipates resuming this critical deployment next year.

    In August, the 21-year-old CGC Healy (WAGB 20) suffered an electrical fire in the starboard main propulsion motor cutting short the cutter’s Arctic operations. The motor was recently replaced during a unique dry dock evolution and the nation’s sole medium icebreaker is expected to return to the Arctic in 2021.

    As the Nation’s primary maritime presence in the Polar Regions, the Coast Guard advances U.S. national interests through a unique blend of polar operational capability, regulatory authority, and international leadership across the full spectrum of maritime governance.

    In April 2019, the Coast Guard released the Arctic Strategic Outlook, which reaffirms the service’s commitment to American leadership in the region through partnership, unity of effort, and continuous innovation.

    “The Arctic is no longer an emerging frontier, but is instead a region of growing national importance,” said Vice Adm. Linda Fagan, commander of U.S. Coast Guard Pacific Area. “The Coast Guard is committed to protecting U.S. sovereignty and working with our partners to uphold a safe, secure, and rules-based Arctic.”

    The Coast Guard has been the sole provider of the nation’s polar icebreaking capability since 1965 and is seeking to increase its icebreaking fleet with six new polar security cutters (PSC) to ensure continued national presence and access to the Polar Regions.

    The Coast Guard awarded VT Halter Marine Inc. of Pascagoula, Mississippi, a contract for the design and construction of the Coast Guard’s lead polar security cutter, which will also be homeported in Seattle. The contract also includes options for the construction of two additional PSCs.

  4. News Release
    U.S. Coast Guard Pacific Area
    Contact: Coast Guard Pacific Area Public Affairs
    Office: (510) 437-3375
    After Hours: (510) 816-1700
    D11-DG-M-PACAREA-PA@uscg.mil
    Pacific Area online newsroom

    U.S Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star reaches record-breaking winter Arctic latitude

    Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star Arctic Winter West 2021
    The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star (WAGB 10) is underway in the Chukchi Sea, Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2020, at about 10:30 a.m. The 44-year-old heavy icebreaker is underway for a months-long deployment to the Arctic to protect the nation’s maritime sovereignty and security throughout the region. U.S. Coast Guard Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Cynthia Oldham
    CHUKCHI SEA — The crew of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star (WAGB 10), the nation’s sole heavy icebreaker, traversed a historic winter latitude Friday during a months-long Arctic deployment to protect the nation’s maritime sovereignty and security throughout the remote polar region.

    Polar Star’s crew navigated beyond 72 degrees latitude shortly before noon Friday before changing course and heading south to continue their Arctic deployment.

    “The crew achieved a notable milestone Christmas Day by traversing farther into the harsh, dark winter Arctic environment than any cutter crew in our service’s history,” said Capt. Bill Woitrya, the cutter’s commanding officer. “Our ice pilots expertly navigated the Polar Star through sea ice up to four-feet thick and, in doing so, serve as pioneers to the country’s future of Arctic explorations.”

    With frigid Arctic winds and air temperatures regularly well below zero, Polar Star’s engineers work around-the-clock to keep frozen machinery equipment running and the ship’s interior spaces warm enough for the crew.

    The 44-year-old icebreaker is underway to project power and support national security objectives throughout Alaskan waters and into the Arctic, including along the Maritime Boundary Line between the United States and Russia.

    The Polar Star crew is also working to detect and deter illegal fishing by foreign vessels in the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone and conduct Arctic training essential for developing future icebreaker operators.

    The Polar Star’s record-breaking winter Arctic latitude is 72° 11′ N.

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