“The situation was dire:” U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker frees boat stranded near Antarctica

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(CNN) — A U.S. Coast Guard cutter has freed an Australian fishing boat trapped in ice 900 miles northeast of Antarctica.

The heavy icebreaker Polar Star arrived Friday night to help the Antarctic Chieftain and its 27 crew members, according to the Coast Guard. The Chieftain, a 207-foot vessel, had lost the ability to maneuver following damage to three of its four propellers on Tuesday.

“The situation was dire,” said Coast Guard Chief Warrant Officer Allyson Conroy. “Had the Polar Star not reached the Chieftain, it would have had to winter in the ice.”

After approaching the Chieftain, the Polar Star took it in tow. Both vessels were surrounded by 12 to 15 feet of ice that was covered with two feet of snow, the Coast Guard said in a news release.

Towing in ice is much more hazardous than towing in open water and is a slow process, Conroy said.

“The seas of Antarctica are treacherous and unforgiving,” Vice Adm. Charles Ray, commander of U.S. Coast Guard operations in the Pacific, said in a press release as the Polar Star was on its way to the trapped fishing vessel. “This incident is a sobering reminder of the importance of the U.S. icebreaker fleet as we see increased human activity in the Polar Regions.”

According to the Coast Guard, the Polar Star was diverted to aid the Antarctic Chieftain following the completion of a mission at McMurdo Station in Antarctica, where the 150-member crew provided military logistical support to a program managed by the National Science Foundation.

The 399-foot Polar Star is the only heavy icebreaker in the Coast Guard fleet capable of operating in the deep ice of Antarctica to free ice-bound ships like the Antarctic Chieftain or clear the route to resupply McMurdo Station. The Polar Star’s home port is Seattle.

This is not the first time the Polar Star has helped a distressed vessel in the waters of Antarctica.

In January 2014, the cutter was deployed to help break through ice that had trapped the Russian ship Akademik Shokalskiy and China’s Xue Long and left them temporarily stranded.

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