Back in service after extended overhaul
The USCGC Polar Star (WAGB-10) is a heavy icebreaker and one of the most powerful non-nuclear icebreakers in the world. Homeported in Seattle, it is currently conducting ice trials in the Arctic. The ship was commissioned in 1976 with an expected service life of 30 years. Until 2006, it (and its sister ship, the USCGC Polar Sea (WAGB-11)) conducted Arctic patrols and missions to Antarctica. They engaged in scientific research and supported resupply efforts at remote locations, particularly for the National Science Foundation’s McMurdo Research Station in Antarctica. In 2006, the Polar Star was laid up. It has undergone a major renovation at a cost of $90 million, extending its expected service life for another eight to ten years. The ship’s three diesel engines and three gas turbine engines were replaced. The cranes, used primarily for scientific work, were also replaced. New and upgraded navigation equipment has been installed, along with new anchor windlasses and small boats. The 399-foot-long, 13,000 ton ship is back in service, but few of its 130 officers and enlisted personnel have ice-breaking experience. The Polar Star is rated at being able to break ice of up to 21 feet thick by backing and ramming and ice of up to six feet in thickness in a continuous running mode, but these depend on ice and weather conditions and also on the experience of the crew. The ice trials will test those capabilities and hone the skills of the crew. In the US winter of 2013-14 (the southern hemisphere’s summer), the Polar Star is scheduled to return to the Antarctic for the first time since its layup. Other icebreakers (often Russian ones) have been supporting the Operation Deepfreeze mission in its absence.