Usually at this time of the year, the USCG Icebreaker Polar Star would be heading south to Antarctica to break up the ice in McMurdo Sound to resupply the American station there. But, like everything else in this weird year of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed that mission and the Polar Star will be heading up north into the Arctic for the first time since the 1980s.
The various nations that have stations in Antarctica have been able to remain free of COVID-19 and they are trying to make sure that that remains true until this is over. That’s why the USCGC Icebreaker Polar Star is going north this year. Well, that’s one reason. They are also going up there to show the Russians and the world that the United States has interests in the Arctic and is going to maintain them.
Recently, the Russians have been accused of harassing American fisherman in the internationally open economic zone waters of the Arctic. Because Russia has much more coast line along Arctic waters than any other country, it has upwards of 30 heavy and medium Icebreakers in their fleet. The United States has only one working heavy icebreaker, the USCGC Polar Star out of Seattle, and one medium icebreaker, the USCGC Healy.
The Polar Star is now 44 years old and. Like her sister ship the USCGC Polar Sea which remains in the services inventory but in an inactive state, primarily used as a source for spare parts, she is aging and crotchety and nearing her final years of service. The first of a planned fleet of three heavy icebreakers, called Polar Security Cutters, is currently being built in Pascagoula, MS, but will not be in service and in Seattle until 2024.
The Polar Star will continue the mission at least until that time.
The crew, as you will hear in this video, is excited about this new mission. They are going to be seeing new territory and will be participating in a mission of national and economic importance. The entire crew is currently under a rigorous COVID-19 quarantine regime, masks and social distancing, etc while in Seattle before heading north. That “bubble” will, of course, continue for a total of three months through the duration of the Arctic mission.
They are scheduled to return to their Seattle home port in February of 2021.
Just think about that for a minute. We complain about having to quarantine for 10-14 days, or about shutdowns for 3-4 weeks. These Polar Star crew members will have seen no one else in person but each other for 3 months. But that is the nature and the reality of military service. You sacrifice so that others might not have to and you do it not just willingly, but sometime for the present offering of an adventure that few others alive will ever have. Gotta love these Coasties of the USCGC Icebreaker, Polar Star.
I’ve met and known Coasties from the Seattle Coast Guard Station who have been on the Antarctic missions in the past. To a man and woman, they found that experience to be one of the most fascinating and enriching learning experiences in their careers. This new mission will have a whole new set of adventures and learning experiences for the current crew. I will be very interested to hear about those adventures and learning experiences on their return.
The Veterans Site sends its respect to the officers and crew of the USCG Icebreaker Polar Star. We wish you fair winds and following seas in your new mission up north to the Arctic. Show the flag and break some ice!!Whizzco