The German research icebreaker Polarstern will end its current expedition to the Antarctic earlier than planned. Due to hydraulic problems in the port engine, the ship will return to Bremerhaven for repairs in mid-March.

“Because of a malfunction in one of the variable-pitch propellers, the ship is now extremely difficult to manoeuvre in ice. As such, the AWI decided to break off the current Antarctic mission,” relates Dr. Rainer Knust, Scientific Coordinator of RV Polarstern at the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI). A planned subsequent research voyage in the Amundsen Sea will unfortunately have to be cancelled.

Aerial photo of the German research icebreaker Polarstern during its summer expedition to the western Gakkel Ridge, Arctic, in July 2014. Photo: Stefanie Arndt, AWI
Aerial photo of the German research icebreaker Polarstern during its summer expedition to the western Gakkel Ridge, Arctic, in July 2014. Photo: Stefanie Arndt, AWI

Polarstern is currently in Atka Bay, where the crew is unloading fuel, provisions and replacement parts for Germany’s Neumayer III research station. If weather conditions remain stable, this should be completed by Monday of next week.

Afterwards, the research vessel will make its way to Cape Town, South Africa before embarking on the five-week return voyage to Bremerhaven. “Given how technically complex the necessary repairs on the drive system are, having them carried out at more readily accessible ports in South America or southern Africa at such short notice wasn’t a viable option,” explains Knust. The ship is tentatively scheduled to arrive at the Lloyd dock facilities in Bremerhaven in the second week of March.

The 118-metre-long research icebreaker Polarstern has been an active part of German polar research for more than 32 years, during which it has spent an average of 310 days per year at sea. In all those years, this is the first time that a research season in the Antarctic has had to be prematurely ended due to technical problems. As Knust summarises: “This shows that the Federal Ministry of Education and Research’s previously made decision to commission a successor ship to the Polarstern was both sound and necessary.”

Source: AWI, Bremerhaven