Operation Deep Freeze 2014: Part 2

The following blog post is the second in a series highlighting MSC’s role in Operation Deep Freeze (ODF) 2014. The purpose of ODF is to provide logistical support to the U.S. Antarctic Program via Department of Defense assets. MSC has supported ODF since McMurdo Station was established in 1955, providing supplies and fuel to scientists operating from the remote base.

 

Military Sealift Command charter ship MV Maersk Illinois, conducts cargo offload operations at the ice pier at McMurdo Station, Antarctica.  Maersk Illinois is one of two MSC ships participating in the annual resupply mission Operation Deep Freeze.  (U.S. Navy photo by Larry Larsson)

Military Sealift Command charter ship MV Maersk Illinois, conducts cargo offload operations at the ice pier at McMurdo Station, Antarctica. Maersk Illinois is one of two MSC ships participating in Operation Deep Freeze. (U.S. Navy photo by Larry Larsson)

Military Sealift Command-chartered container ship MV Maersk Illinois successfully completed cargo offloads at McMurdo Station, Antarctica, part of MSC’s role supporting Operation Deep Freeze, the annual Joint Task Force Support for Antarctica mission to resupply the National Science Foundation’s outpost.

Maersk Illinois arrived at McMurdo’s ice pier Jan. 31, and began off-loading its containerized Feb. 1. Members of Navy Cargo Handling Battalion One worked around-the-clock offloading the cargo of nearly 7 million pounds of supplies such as frozen and dry food stores, building materials, vehicles, and electronic equipment and parts; roughly 80 percent of the materials needed for the winter over period.

While cargo operations in any environment are challenging, working in Antarctica is truly a fight with Mother Nature. In the United States, parts of the country have experienced this winter’s “Polar Vortex,” recording below average, frigid conditions. Despite being summer in Antarctica, the conditions hovered in the single digits and below zero. Icy winds from Mt. Erebus – known to be among the coldest places on earth – blew straight at the ship, at speeds upwards of 20 knots or more. It can make for long, bone-chilling days.

A semi-truck, loaded with a helicopter  wrapped for shipment waits on the ice pier. (U.S. Navy photo by Larry Larsson)

A semi-truck loaded with a helicopter wrapped for shipment waits on the ice pier. (U.S. Navy photo by Larry Larsson)

“The crew of the Maersk Peary has supported this year’s mission like the true professionals they are,” said Larry Larsson, MSC’s ODF coordinator in Antarctica. “The entire village has remarked how professional the captain and crew have been making their approach to the problematic ice pier.”

The battle with weather conditions wasn’t confined to just the cold. McMurdo Station is called the “Ice” for a reason. Besides rock, ice is the primary landscape in Antarctica. Operations here are dependent on the ice – too much can be just as challenging as too little. The ice pier, in particular, is a huge factor. This year’s cargo operations were impacted by erosion by the sea, which followed ice milling around the pier.

Once the pier was clear of ice, groundswells and changes in tides washed six to eight feet off the pier edges, which affected the top working area where cargo operations were conducted. Two cracks formed along with the erosion and operations were suspended for 24 hours. Engineers worked quickly to reconstruct the pier and to repair damage areas to support equipment like two 40-foot semi-trucks.

Cargo operations on the ice pier (U.S. Navy photo)

Cargo operations on the ice pier (U.S. Navy photo)

“Everyone understands why they are here,” said Larsson. “No one bought a vacation ticket to be here. Everyone here has a purpose; a job. It takes everyone to pull their own weight to accomplish the job at hand and working through the challenges to meet the mission requirements. It really is a team effort.”

Maersk Illinois began its journey in Port Hueneme, Calif, Jan. 6. The ship stopped briefly in New Zealand before making the transit to McMurdo Sound, Antarctica. Maersk Illinois is the second of two MSC-chartered ships supporting ODF 2014. Tanker MT Maersk Peary (T-AOT 5246) completed the transfer of nearly 3.5 million gallons of diesel fuel, jet fuel and gasoline Jan. 28.

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