Seattle Coast Guard crew nurses aging icebreaker to complete Antarctic mission

Based in Seattle, The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar is the only heavy icebreaker left in the fleet.

It was cutting an opening in the Antarctic ice, so that food and fuel ships could deliver a year’s supply to McMurdo research station before winter sets in there.

But there was trouble in the engine room when the 42-year-old electronic controls broke down. And even more danger when water gushed in through leaking seals around the propeller shaft.

Today we spoke with Captain Michael Davanzo via satellite phone from the Southern Sea just north of Antarctica.

Scroll down to continue reading

More news from KIRO 7


"Worst case scenario we could flood the engine room and we would have trouble getting back home," he said.

Davanzo credits the skill of his crew for keeping the Polar Star going.

"We're more than just an icebreaker we also have a search and rescue mission, a law enforcement mission, and environmental mission.”

With other nations contending for the research and resources in Antarctica Captain Davanzo believes the US needs more heavy icebreakers.

"Without our presence, down here we wouldn't be able to support the U.S. interests as other countries work to develop and research and supply points down here."

We were with Senator Cantwell in Seattle two years ago when she pushed for money to renovate the Coast Guard’s current icebreakers and build a new one.

“The most immediate impact could be anywhere from 250 to 1,000 new jobs if the administration invests in refurbishing the one ship that we have here in the Northwest as well as building a new icebreaker.”

The Polar Star and her crew are heading north and are expected to be back in Seattle in mid-March.