The United States has sought, and been granted, New Zealand’s permission for a U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker, the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star, to make a port call at Lyttelton on its way home from Antarctica sometime later this month.

An Adelie penguin greets the USCGC Polar Star icebreaker in McMurdo Sound. Commissioned in 1976, the ship is one of the largest in the U.S. Coast Guard. The Polar Star is used to annually break a channel through the sea ice of McMurdo Sound to allow for a cargo ship and fuel tanker to resupply the scientific programmes on the ice. (Photo: US Coast Guard)
An Adelie penguin greets the USCGC Polar Star icebreaker in McMurdo Sound. Commissioned in 1976, the ship is one of the largest in the U.S. Coast Guard. The Polar Star is used to annually break a channel through the sea ice of McMurdo Sound to allow for a cargo ship and fuel tanker to resupply the scientific programmes on the ice. (Photo: US Coast Guard)

The United States Coast Guard is poised to return to New Zealand for the first time in decades with a stopover on its way home from Antarctica. The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter (USCGC) Polar Star will be on its way back from completing seasonal operations in Antarctica when it stops at Lyttelton. It will be the first visit by a US Coast Guard vessel since the 1980s and follows an ice breaking visit by a US warship, the USS Sampson, during New Zealand naval celebrations. The US has only recently lifted its ban on military vessels docking in New Zealand, a policy that stemmed from the disagreement over New Zealand's anti-nuclear legislation.

“We are very excited about this visit, which dovetails with our long-standing Antarctic cooperation,” says US Charge D'Affaires at the US Embassy in Wellington Candy Green. The exact date of arrival in New Zealand will be determined by its date of departure from Antarctica and the conditions it encounters while heading north.

A crane operator lowers the Polar Star’s brow onto fast ice in McMurdo Sound, Antarctica. After reaching suitable ice, the icebreaker’s crew and passengers could disembark onto the ice.  (Photo: U.S. Coast Guard)
A crane operator lowers the Polar Star’s brow onto fast ice in McMurdo Sound, Antarctica. After reaching suitable ice, the icebreaker’s crew and passengers could disembark onto the ice. (Photo: U.S. Coast Guard)

Annually the Polar Star breaks a channel through the sea ice of McMurdo Sound to allow a cargo ship and fuel tanker to resupply the scientific programs on the ice. The icebreaker then escorts these ships safely in and out of McMurdo Sound. This annual U.S. resupply allows for year-round scientific activities in Antarctica and is critical to the operation of McMurdo Station that serves as a logistics hub for Amundsen-Scott South Pole Stations (800 miles inland from McMurdo) and various field camps as well as operation of New Zealand’s Scott Base.

Chargé Green says this year’s stop in New Zealand makes a lot of sense. “A number of the scientific programs in Antarctica will benefit from this year’s supply stop in Lyttelton. This visit saves days of transit time for the vessel and the fuel associated, saves money, and strengthens our joint cooperation on the ice.  Additionally, doing it this way frees up space on the U.S. Antarctic Program’s fleet of ski-equipped LC-130 cargo aircraft to conduct missions on the continent.”

The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star rams through dense ice off the Antarctic coast. The Polar Star and its crew work to establish a resupply channel through Antarctic ice to enable ships to reach the National Science Foundation’s McMurdo Station. (Photo: U.S. Coast Guard)
The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star rams through dense ice off the Antarctic coast. The Polar Star and its crew work to establish a resupply channel through Antarctic ice to enable ships to reach the National Science Foundation’s McMurdo Station. (Photo: U.S. Coast Guard)

Chargé Green says that the possibility of any future U.S. ship visits to New Zealand would continue to be considered on a case-by-case basis by the two countries. “Any conversations about the possibility of future visits will focus on practical cooperation, friendship, and advancing shared interests,” she says.

Source: U.S. Embassy Press Release and stuff.co.nz