The departure marks the Polar Star’s 23rd journey to Antarctica in support of Operation Deep Freeze, an annual joint military service mission to resupply the US Antarctic stations, in support of the National Science Foundation.

The Seattle-based 399-foot, 13,000-ton Polar Star created a 23-mile channel through the ice to McMurdo Sound, which enabled the offload of over 19.5 million pounds of dry cargo and 7.6 million gallons of fuel from three logistics vessels.

Together these three ships delivered enough fuel and critical supplies to sustain NSF operations throughout the year until Polar Star returns in 2021.

The Polar Star also supported a team of US government officials from the US Department of State, National Science Foundation, NOAA and USCG who conducted a five-day inspection of foreign research stations, installations, and equipment in Antarctica.

The US continues to promote Antarctica’s status as a continent reserved for peace and science in accordance with the provisions of the Antarctic Treaty of 1959.

The inspection serves to verify compliance with the Antarctic Treaty and its Environmental Protocol, including provisions prohibiting military measures and mining, as well as provisions promoting safe station operation and sound environmental practices.

This was the fifteenth inspection of foreign research stations by the US in Antarctica, and the first since 2012.

The US will present its report on the inspection at the next Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting in Helsinki, Finland, in May 2020.

Commissioned in 1976, the Polar Star is the United States’ only operational heavy icebreaker, capable of breaking ice up to 21 feet thick.

Reserved for Operation Deep Freeze each year, the ship spends the winter breaking ice near Antarctica, and when the mission is complete, returns to dry dock in order to conduct critical maintenance and repairs in preparation for the next Operation Deep Freeze mission.

If a catastrophic event, such as getting stuck in the ice, were to happen to the Coast Guard Cutter Healy (WAGB 20) in the Arctic or to the Polar Star near Antarctica, the U.S. Coast Guard is left without a self-rescue capability.

In this respect, the USCG is seeking to increase its icebreaking fleet with six new polar security cutters to ensure continued national presence and access to the Polar Regions.

In April, 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.

The contract also includes options for the construction of two additional PSCs.

Replacing the Coast Guard’s icebreaker fleet is paramount. Our ability to clear a channel and allow for the resupply of the United States’ Antarctic stations is essential for continued national presence and influence on the continent,

...said Vice Adm. Linda Fagan, commander of the Coast Guard’s Pacific Area.