A fishing vessel that had remained trapped in Antarctic ice at roughly 900-miles northeast of McMurdo Sound, Antarctica, for a duration of almost two weeks is now free after an international rescue operation was carried out with a successful ending on Sunday at approximately 8 p.m local time.

The Antarctic Chieftain, a fishing vessel sailing under the Australian flag, was rescued with the help of the 150-men crew of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star. The rescue operation was far from easy as it spanned over 860 miles and the crew had to break through 150 miles of thick Antarctic ice, as well as maneuver around enormous icebergs.

USCG Polar Star

Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class George Degener

"We can be nothing other than proud when it comes to the commitment and dedication displayed by the Coast Guardsmen of the Polar Star, but most importantly, we are very grateful that they had the ability to safely reach the Antarctic Chieftain and manage to rescue the 26 endangered people,” commented Vice Adm. Charles W. Ray, Pacific Area commander.

"This was a very difficult, dangerous and complex rescue operation; however, the crew accepted the challenge at hand, and they managed to show that they truly exemplify the Coast Guard’s Core Values of Honor, Respect and Devotion to Duty and our service’s commitment to perfection.”

The crew had to navigate through harsh weather during the five-day long rescue mission which included episodes of heavy snow fall, high winds and extreme ice conditions. The Coast Guardsmen of the Polar Star made out a report regarding whiteout snow conditions early on during the operation, and they also had to break through ice that had previously built up over the course of several years thus making it extremely thick.

“I could hardly envision some medium icebreaker that would have been able to carry out the rescue because we were forced to go on turbine in order to manage to get through the multiyear ice which at some particular places appeared to be as thick as 20 feet. Additionally the mere amount of icebergs in the area strongly suggested that the region was very hazardous to navigate through,” further added Capt. Matthew Walker, Cutter Polar Star’s commanding officer. “This particular rescue operation displays the importance of the only active heavy icebreaker that we have in the Polar Regions.”

During the course of the mission the Antarctic Chieftain managed to damage three of its four propeller blades in the thick ice, which caused the Coast Guardsmen aboard Polar Star to have to tow the ship through approximately 60-miles of ice into the open water. The whole towing process of the 207 feet long fishing vessel through the thick ice placed a serious load of strain on the tow line, which broke three times during the rescue operation. When the Antarctic Chieftain was in the open water it was able to navigate under its own power. The crewmembers of the fishing vessel Janas are to escort the Antarctic Chieftain en route to Nelson, New Zealand.

Source: USCG