The United State Coast Guard (USCG)'s only operational heavy icebreaker, the USCGC Polar Star, is currently en route from Australia to Antarctica, on a mission to rescue two ships that have been stranded between ice packs for a little less than two weeks.
The cutter now answers a request made by China, Russia and Australia on January 3, to relieve the situation of the Russian research ship Akademik Shokalskiy – which became entangled in ice on Christmas Eve – and the Chinese icebreaker Xue Long (Snow Dragon) that came to its aid.
The two vessels are trapped on the eastern coasts of Antarctica, and relief efforts have until now been made impossible due to severe weather at their location. The 122-meter (399-foot) Polar Star is the largest icebreaker in the US fleet, with a tonnage of 13,000 tons (13,200 metric tons).
The vessel, which is expected to reach the stranded ships in less than a week, can break through ices up to 6.4 meters (21 feet) thick. It can move at a steady speed of 6 kilometers per hour (3 knots), through ices more than 1.8 meters (6 feet) thick.
“Our highest priority is safety of life at sea, which is why we are assisting in breaking a navigational path for both of these vessels,” said the Coast Guard Pacific Area commander, Vice Admiral Paul F. Zukunft, quoted by PhysOrg.