The country’s only heavy polar icebreaker has pulled it off again..despite the flooding, engine failure, you know, the regular.
The 42-year-old 399-foot USCGC Polar Star (WAGB-10) last week finished cutting a resupply channel through 15 miles of Antarctic ice in the Ross Sea and escorting supply vessels to the frozen continent to resupply McMurdo Station at the tip of Ross Island, the epicenter of the U.S. Antarctic Program (pop. 1200).
The trip was not without drama for the elderly cutter.
From the USCG:
“Although we had less ice this year than last year, we had several engineering challenges to overcome to get to the point where we could position ourselves to moor in McMurdo,” said Capt. Michael Davanzo, the commanding officer of the Polar Star. “Our arrival was delayed due to these challenges, but the crew and I are certainly excited to be here. It’s a unique opportunity for our crewmembers to visit the most remote continent in the world, and in many respects, it makes the hard work worth it.”
On Jan. 16, Polar Star’s shaft seal failed causing flooding in the cutter’s engine room at a rate of approximately 20-gallons per minute. The crew responded quickly, using an emergency shaft seal to stop the flow of freezing, Antarctic water into the vessel. The crew was able dewater the engineering space and effect more permanent repairs to the seal to ensure the watertight integrity of the vessel. There were no injuries as a result of the malfunction.
Flooding was not the only engineering challenge the crew of Polar Star faced during their trek through the thick ice. On Jan. 11, their progress was slowed after the one of the cutter’s three main gas turbines failed. The crew uses the cutter’s main gas turbine power to breakup thick multi-year ice using its propellers. The crew was able to troubleshoot the turbine finding a programming issue between the engine and the cutter’s 1970s-era electrical system. The crew was able to continue their mission in the current ice conditions without the turbine.
“If the Polar Star were to suffer a catastrophic mechanical failure, the Nation would not be able to support heavy icebreaker missions like Operation Deep Freeze, and our Nation has no vessel capable of rescuing the crew if the icebreakers were to fail in the ice,” said Vice Adm. Fred Midgette, commander, U.S. Coast Guard Pacific Area in Alameda, California. “The crewmembers aboard Polar Star not only accomplished their mission, but they did so despite extreme weather and numerous engineering challenges. This is a testament to their dedication and devotion to duty.”
The cutter refueled at McMurdo Station Jan. 18 and continued to develop and maintain the ice channel in preparation for two resupply ships from U.S. Military Sealift Command, Ocean Giant, and Maersk Peary. The crew of Polar Star escorted the vessels to the ice pier at McMurdo Station, an evolution that requires the cutter to travel about 300 yards in front of the supply ships to ensure they safely make it through the narrow ice channel. The crew escorted the Ocean Giant to the ice pier at McMurdo Jan. 27 and conducted their final escort of the Maersk Peary to Antarctica Feb. 2. The crew escorted Maersk Peary safely out of the ice Feb. 6 after supply vessel’s crew transferred their cargo.
The 50-year-old Hamilton-class 378-foot high endurance cutter USCGC Sherman (WHEC-720) has returned from her final trip under a U.S. flag last week following a 76-day patrol in the Bering Sea. She is scheduled to decommission in March.
From USCG Public Affairs:
During the three-month patrol, the crew supported the safe transit of a disabled vessel over 800 miles to Dutch Harbor, enforced fisheries regulations in the Bering Sea and the Gulf of Alaska. They also provided a command and control platform capable of embarking a helicopter, thus providing search and rescue coverage to those operating in the Bering Sea.
Sherman has a storied history including being the last remaining U.S. Warship in the Coast Guard or Navy to have sunk an enemy vessel. It is also one of only two cutters to hold the Vietnam Service Award and the only cutter to hold the Combat Action Ribbon for action in the Vietnam War.
In 2001 it became the first cutter to circumnavigate the world, after conducting U.N. sanctions enforcement duty in the Persian Gulf and goodwill projects in Madagascar, South Africa and Cape Verde.
Adding to Sherman’s history, in March of 2007, a boarding team dispatched from the cutter discovered 17 metric tons of cocaine on the Panamanian-flagged freighter, Gatun. This seizure remains the largest drug bust in U.S. history with an estimated street value of $600 million. As the record holder, Sherman proudly wears the Golden Snowflake.
The crew rounded out the cutter’s storied career in the Bering Sea; conducting 16 fisheries boardings, issuing four fisheries violations and one safety violation, ensuring the integrity of the $6 billion fishing industry. As the primary search and rescue asset in the region at the time, Sherman also ensured the safe transit of the crew of the Resolve Pioneer, a Dutch Harbor-based ocean-going tug, following a severe casualty at the far end of the Aleutian chain, restricting their speed and maneuverability.
“As Sherman and her crew return home from this final patrol, it is humbling to look back on the history and the accomplishments of this crew and the previous,” said Capt. Steve Wittrock, commanding officer of Sherman. “This final patrol has been significant in that the Bering Sea mission is one of the most demanding and historically important in the Coast Guard and I am very proud of the way that the crew has performed throughout the last two challenging months.”
Sherman is one of the Coast Guard’s four remaining 378-foot high endurance cutters still in operation. The 1960s era fleet of cutters is presently being replaced by the 413-foot national security cutters, which will soon serve as the Coast Guard’s primary, long-range asset. Honolulu will serve as a homeport to two of the national security cutters, replacing Sherman and the already decommissioned Morgenthau.
So far, the State Department has passed on three of the stricken “378s” to the Philippines (USCGC Hamilton, Boutwell, Dallas), two to the Nigerian Navy (Gallatin and Chase) and two to the Bangladesh Navy (Jarvis and Rush). Morgenthau went to the Vietnam Coast Guard last year. With Sherman decommissioned, only USCGC Mellon (WHEC-717) and Midgett (WHEC-726) based in Seattle, and Munro (WHEC-724) in Kodiak remain in U.S. service and are expected to be replaced by the National Security Cutter program by 2021.
71 years ago today–January 18, 1947– A photograph of the return of the Iowa-class battleship USS Wisconsin (BB-64) to the Norfolk Naval Base in Norfolk, Virginia. The battleship had been on a 12-day cruise in the Caribbean with 565 Naval Reservists. Wisconsin was built at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard in Pennsylvania and launched on December 7, 1943– the above being her original bow. She would only later be referred to as WisKy, after she picked up the bow of her uncompleted sister ship, USS Kentucky, following a collision with the destroyer Ellison in 1956.
Here we see some great shots by the very talented USCG LCDR Krystyn Pecora of the Boston-based 270-foot medium endurance cutter USCGC Seneca (WMEC-906) as she nears the end of her periodic drydock availability.
A “Bear” or “Famous” class cutter, her keel was laid on 16 September 1982 at Robert Derecktor Shipyard, Middletown, RI, and she was commissioned in 1986, making her 31 years young.
She shares the name of the old USRC Seneca, commissioned in 1908, a former Warship Wednesday alum.
You can expect Seneca to put another decade or so under her hull before she is ultimately replaced by one of the new, larger Offshore Patrol Cutters, currently in the works. However, with her 76mm OTO Melara, helicopter hangar, economical diesel plant– and originally designed with weight and space reserved for Harpoon, Mk32, a towed array and CIWS– you can expect that she will likely be passed on to a third world ally for a second career.
You don’t typically think of a 225-foot Juniper-class Coast Guard buoy tender as a national defense (MARDEZ) and homeland security asset, but Coast Guard Cutter Aspen just returned to her homeport last week after sailing nearly 7,000 nautical miles during a 30-day patrol, which included a cocaine interdiction off Mexico as part of Joint Interagency Task Force (JIATF) South.
Aspen‘s efforts resulted in the interdiction of a suspected smuggling vessel carrying more than 224 pounds of cocaine worth approximately $3.3 million and the apprehension of six suspected smugglers.
The interdiction occurred Oct. 10, after the Aspen deployed two 23-foot interceptor boats which made a three-hour pursuit to intercept a suspected smuggling vessel approximately 400 miles off the coast of Mexico.
Also during the deployment, the Aspen conducted exercises with the Mexican and Canadian navies aimed to help strengthen international partnerships while degrading and disrupting transnational criminal organization networks. Not bad for a ship whose primary mission is aids to navigation.
“This was a very successful deployment and I could not be more proud of the crew,” said Lt. Cmdr. Justin Vanden Heuvel, Aspen‘s commanding officer. “Utilizing a buoy tender as a platform to execute counter-narcotics missions shows the versatility and adaptability of the Coast Guard and the Aspen crew. Day in and day out the crew expertly conducts a wide variety of missions including search and rescue, aids to navigation, fisheries enforcement and in this case, the interdiction of illegal contraband destined for the United States.”
While built for tending navigational aids, 225’s have also proved useful in everything from salvage to sovereignty and fishery patrols, to ice operations (sistership USCGC Maple covered the Northwest Passage in 47 days this summer) and even carrying special operations detachments on training missions in the littoral.
A very serious French soldier of the 141st Regiment with homing pigeons in 1915. According to reports, they played a vital part in the Great War on all side as they provided an extremely reliable way of sending messages. “Such was the importance of pigeons that over 100,000 were used in the war with an astonishing success rate of 95 percent.”
And today, 102 years later, the French still keep at least one guy on the payroll versed in carrier (pigeon) operations– just in case.