US breaker to rescue vessel stranded in Antarctica

2015-02-12 08:47
US Coast Guard officer. (Paul Schemm, AP)

US Coast Guard officer. (Paul Schemm, AP)

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The United States is sending a heavy icebreaker to help free an Australian fishing boat with 27 people on board that has been stranded since Tuesday in the icy Antarctic seas, the US Coast Guard said on Wednesday.

The 63m Antarctic Chieftain has been stuck 1 450km northeast of McMurdo Sound since Tuesday night.

Responding to a request for help from New Zealand authorities, the Coast Guard cutter Polar Star is scheduled to reach the vessel on Thursday evening, the Coast Guard said in a statement.

The vessel is unable to move after three of its four propellers were damaged by the ice, the statement said.

In order to get to it, Polar Star and its 150 crew members must travel some 531km, breaking through several kilometers of ice 2.7m thick and travelling through heavy snow and winds up to 56km/h, officials said.

"The considerable geographic distances and extreme environmental conditions make this a complex rescue mission," said Captain Matthew Walker, commanding officer of Polar Star. "However, we're confident in our ability to reach the Antarctic Chieftain and committed to ensuring the safety of life at sea no matter the challenges."

Once it breaks the vessel free from the ice, the New Zealand fishing vessel Janas is set to either escort or tow the Australian boat to the nearest safe harbor, the statement said.

The rescue is being co-ordinated between the Coast Guard and Maritime New Zealand.

The Coast Guard's Polar Star is 120m long with a maximum speed of 18 knots. The cutter is almost 40 years old and the only heavy icebreaker in the United States capable of operating in the icy Antarctic conditions, the statement said.

The Polar Star crew had just completed its annual mission, known as "Operation Deep Freeze," to break a channel through the sea ice of McMurdo Sound in Antarctica to resupply and refuel the US Antarctic programme's McMurdo Station on Ross Island.

Last year, the breaker cut short its mission in January to help free a Russian ship and a Chinese icebreaker from the Antarctic ice.

"The seas of Antarctica are treacherous and unforgiving," said US Coast Guard Vice Admiral Charles Ray. "This incident is a sobering reminder of the importance of the US icebreaker fleet as we see increased human activity in the polar regions."

Read more on:    us  |  antarctica  |  australia  |  maritime

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