U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker heads to Arctic
After the coronavirus pandemic scuttled their normal voyage, the crew of the Polar Star, the only operating heavy-duty icebreaker for the US Coast Guard, is preparing for a special mission north to the Arctic.
The Seattle-based Polar Star normally heads south to Antarctica to resupply a research station, but even in one of the most remote corners of the world, there is no relief from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The crew is in quarantine and is being checked before their Friday departure to ensure that no one carries the virus aboard. For three months, the crew would be in their own bubble. No guests will be allowed, and before they return to Seattle in late February, they won't see anyone else.
“The U.S. Antarctic program really scaled back their operations in Antarctica. They postponed or delayed most of the science that was going on, and they strictly limited the number of people that were traveling to the continent," said Captain Bill Woityra.
The Polar Star crew will test communications equipment in the Arctic, Woityra said and perform training exercises. For international affairs in the Arctic, the latest mission comes at a delicate time. The US accused Russia of harassing American fishing boats in US waters earlier this year.
The other obstacle for the Coast Guard will be just keeping the 44-year-old Polar Star going. In recent years, it's had some severe mechanical problems and a replacement is long overdue.
Construction has begun on a new ice breaker and, a Coast Guard spokesperson said, it should be commissioned in Seattle by 2024.
Maritime Business World