Seattle-based icebreaker heading to ships trapped in Antarctic ice.

ANTARCTICA - Help is on the way!  The Seattle-based US Coast Guard cutter Polar Star has been rerouted to aid two ships trapped in ice of Antarctica.  The U.S. Coast guard announced Saturday that the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) had requested immediate assistance to the Russian-Flagged Akademik Shokalskiy and Chinese-Flagged Xue Long, that remain ice-bound in the Antarctic.

Coast Guard Pacific Area Command Center evaluated the situation and determined there is sufficient concern that the vessels may not be able to free themselves from the ice, the Coast Guard reported. AMSA has been coordinating rescue operations since the Akademik Shokalskiy became beset with ice on Dec. 24.  The Polar Star will cut short its planned stop in Sydney to support the AMSA’s request for assistance.

The Polar Star left its homeport of Seattle in early December on one of its primary missions, Operation Deep Freeze. The ship’s mission is to break a channel through the sea ice of McMurdo Sound to resupply and refuel the U.S. Antarctic Program’s  (USAP) McMurdo Station on Ross Island.

This is the first time since 2006 that the Polar Star has made this journey. It has recently completed a three-year, $90 million overhaul, which will allow it to continue these important missions into the foreseeable future.  For more than 50 years, Coast Guard icebreaker crews have deployed to Antarctica in support of Operation Deep Freeze.

The Polar Star is the U.S. Coast Guard’s only active heavy polar ice breaker. The ship is 399 feet in length, its maximum speed is 18 knots, it is able to continuously break six feet of ice at three knots, and able to break 21 feet of ice backing and ramming.  The Polar Star is specifically designed for open-water icebreaking with a reinforced hull and special icebreaking bow.