Icebreaker crew face shipboard fire and blackouts while on mission to Antarctica

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February 28, 2019

Coast Guard icebreaker crew North Star fought the fire that erupted in the ship’s incinerator compartment on February 10, the latest problem encountered by the crew during their long deployments in Antarctica.

After using four extinguishers to try to stop the blaze, it took two hours for the crew to put out the blaze. The fire damage was contained inside the incinerator, but several nearby electrical and insulation systems were damaged by fire extinguishing water as the crew cooled the exhaust pipe of the ‘incinerator.

The incident occurred around 9 p.m. Pacific Standard Time, approximately 650 miles north of McMurdo Sound in Antarctica, site of the base of the US science mission to the continent and the The polar star destination as part of its annual support and replenishment mission.

The fire started in the vessel’s incinerator compartment. Coast Guard image from vessel surveillance cameras.

No injuries have been reported and the cause of the fire is under investigation, according to the Coast Guard.

“It is always serious business any time a fire aboard a ship breaks out at sea, and it is even more concerning when that ship is in one of the most remote places on the planet.” , said Vice Admiral Linda Fagan, Commander of the Pacific Zone of the US Coast Guard. . “The crew of the North Star did an outstanding job – their expert response and determination ensured the safety of everyone on board.

The 339’x83’6 “x31 ‘ North Star was commissioned in 1976 and is the only American heavy icebreaker. Her crew had to contend with growing mechanical and electrical issues with aging equipment during the annual Operation Deep Freeze, the joint military service mission that supports the National Science Foundation and its United States Antarctic Program.

The North Star The crew departed their home port of Seattle on November 27 for their sixth deployment in as many years and have traveled over 11,200 miles to Antarctica. Along the way, one of the ship’s electrical systems began to smoke, damaging an electrical panel, while one of the two evaporators providing potable water broke down. The crew carried out the electrical repairs at sea and obtained parts for the evaporator during a stopover in Wellington, New Zealand.

Approaching Antarctica, the North Star broke nearly 17 miles of ice, 6 ‘to 10’ thick, to open a channel for resupply shipments through McMurdo Sound. This operation was interrupted by a leak in a propeller shaft, forcing the divers to get into the water and repair a shaft seal. Ship-wide power outages occurred during the icebreaking, forcing the crew to spend nine hours shutting down the ship’s power plant and restarting the electrical system.

January 30, North Star escorted the container ship Ocean giant across the canal, allowing nearly 500 containers to be unloaded over 10 days with 10 million pounds of cargo that will restock McMurdo Station, Amundsen-Scott Station at the South Pole and other US field camps. After leaving Antarctica, the North Star the crew arrived in New Zealand for a stopover and are currently en route to their home port of Seattle.

The Polar Star heavy icebreaker in McMurdo Strait, Antarctica, near the National Science Foundation's McMurdo Station in 2016. US Coast Guard Photo / PO2 Grant DeVuyst.

The Polar Star heavy icebreaker in McMurdo Strait, Antarctica, near the National Science Foundation’s McMurdo Station in 2016. US Coast Guard Photo / PO2 Grant DeVuyst.

With just one other icebreaker, the average 420-foot icebreaker Healy, the United States has virtually no self-rescue capability should either ship run aground in the polar regions. In its recent budget deal, Congress ultimately provided $ 655 million to begin construction of the first of a new class of six heavy-duty icebreakers – or “polar security cutters,” as Coast Guard advocates have called them. nicknamed.

But six years can pass between the signing of a contract and the commissioning of this first new ship, warned lawmakers on several occasions, the commander of the coastguard, Karl Schultz.

“As we focus our efforts on creating a peaceful and collaborative environment in the Arctic, we are also responding to the impacts of increased competition in this strategically important region,” Schultz said in a statement Thursday. “Our continued presence will allow us to strengthen positive opportunities and mitigate negative consequences today and tomorrow.


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