What happened when a Coast Guard icebreaker caught fire near Antarctica - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TRENDING

What happened when a Coast Guard icebreaker caught fire near Antarctica

During its return from an annual supply run to the McMurdo research station in Antarctica, the US Coast Guard’s only heavy icebreaker, the Polar Star, had a fire break out inside its incinerator room as it sailed about 650 miles north of McMurdo Sound.

The incident occurred on Feb. 10, 2019, after the icebreaker had left Antarctica, where it had cut a channel though nearly 17 miles of ice that was 6 to 10 feet thick to allow a container ship to offload 10 million pounds of supplies that will sustain US research stations and field camps in Antarctica.


According to a Coast Guard release, four fire extinguishers failed during the initial response, and it ultimately took two hours for the ship’s fire crews to put out the blaze. While damage from the flames was contained inside the incinerator housing, water used to cool nearby exhaust pipes damaged electrical systems and insulation in the room.

What happened when a Coast Guard icebreaker caught fire near Antarctica

Smoke from a fire aboard the Coast Guard heavy icebreaker Polar Star, Feb. 10, 2019.

(US Coast Guard photo)

What happened when a Coast Guard icebreaker caught fire near Antarctica

A fire in the incinerator room of the Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Star, Feb. 10, 2019.

(US Coast Guard photo)

“It’s always a serious matter whenever a shipboard fire breaks out at sea, and it’s even more concerning when that ship is in one of the most remote places on Earth,” Vice Adm. Linda Fagan, commander of the US Coast Guard’s Pacific Area, said in a release. “The crew of the Polar Star did an outstanding job — their expert response and determination ensured the safety of everyone aboard.”

Point Nemo, the most remote spot on earth, is also in the South Pacific — 1,670 miles from the nearest land, which is Ducie Island, part of the Pitcairn Islands, to the north; Motu Nui, one of the Easter Islands, to the northeast; and Maher Island, part of Antarctica, to the south.

What happened when a Coast Guard icebreaker caught fire near Antarctica

Coast Guard crew members fight a fire aboard the icebreaker Polar Star, Feb. 10, 2019.

(US Coast Guard photo)

What happened when a Coast Guard icebreaker caught fire near Antarctica

A disabled fishing vessel is towed through sea ice near Antarctica by the Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Star, Feb. 14, 2015.

(US Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class George Degener)

The Polar Star is the Coast Guard’s only heavy icebreaker, capable of smashing through the thick ice that builds up in the Arctic and around Antarctica. As such, it makes the run to McMurdo every year in the winter months and then goes into dry dock for maintenance and repairs in preparation for the next trip.

Having just one working heavy icebreaker has hindered the Coast Guard’s ability to meet request from other government agencies. The service could only do 78% of heavy icebreaking missions between 2010 and 2016, according to a 2017 Government Accountability Office Report.

Retired Adm. Paul Zukunft, who was Coast Guard commandant between mid-2014 and mid-2018, said in December 2018 that he turned down a request to carry out a freedom-of-navigation exercise in the Arctic out of concern the Polar Star would break down and need Russia to rescue it.

What happened when a Coast Guard icebreaker caught fire near Antarctica

Contractors work on the Polar Star’s hull as the icebreaker undergoes depot-level maintenance at a dry dock in Vallejo, California, in preparation for its future polar-region patrol, April 16, 2018.

(US Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Matthew S. Masaschi)

What happened when a Coast Guard icebreaker caught fire near Antarctica

US Coast Guard scuba divers work to repair a leak in the shaft seal of the Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Star, January 2019.

(US Coast Guard photo)

The Polar Star left its home port in Seattle on Nov. 27, 2018, to make the 11,200-mile trip to Antarctica for the sixth time in as many years. It suffered a number of mechanical problems on the way there, including smoke damage to an electrical switchboard, ship-wide power outages, and a leak in the propeller shaft.

Repairing the propeller-shaft leak required the ship to halt icebreaking operations and deploy divers to fix the shaft seal. The Polar Star also had a number of mechanical issues during its 2018 run to McMurdo.

What happened when a Coast Guard icebreaker caught fire near Antarctica

The Polar Star sailed into Wellington, New Zealand, on Feb. 18, 2019, for a port call, the first time those aboard had set foot on land in 42 days, according to New Zealand news outlet Stuff. The ship is currently on its way back to Seattle, the Coast Guard said in its release.

Source: Stuff

What happened when a Coast Guard icebreaker caught fire near Antarctica

The Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Sea passing the Polar Star in the ice channel near McMurdo, Antarctica, Jan. 10, 2002.

(US Coast Guard photo by Rob Rothway)

What happened when a Coast Guard icebreaker caught fire near Antarctica

A seal on the ice in front of the Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Star while the ship was hove-to in the Ross Sea near Antarctica, Jan. 30, 2015.

(US Coast Guard photo by Carlos Rodriguez)

The Coast Guard has been pushing to build a new heavy icebreaker for some time, setting up a joint program office with the Navy to oversee the effort. Funding for the new ship had been held up in Congress, but lawmakers recently approved 5 million to start building a new one and another million for materials for a second.

In summer 2018, the Senate approved 5 million for the new icebreaker, but the House of Representatives instead authorized billion to build the US-Mexico border wall sought by President Donald Trump, cutting a number of programs, including that of the icebreaker in the process.

But Congressional staffers told USNI News in February 2019 that the Homeland Security Department’s fiscal year 2019 appropriation would include 5 million for new icebreakers.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

Do Not Sell My Personal Information