MSC delivers for Pacer Goose in Greenland

By Bill Cook, MSCLANT Public Affairs 

The port at Thule Air Base, located on the northwest coast of Greenland, and 750 miles north of the Arctic Circle, is thickly frozen nine months of the year. For roughly three months beginning each July, the ice thins on Baffin Bay to less than four feet – thin enough for icebreakers to clear a path for ships to enter. This brief window of opportunity is relied upon for the resupply of the base for an entire year, and is why Military Sealift Command-contracted supply vessels are a welcome sight.

MSC-chartered cargo ship MV Ocean Giant sits in North Star Bay, Greenland, with equipment and supplies for personnel on Thule Air Base. The annual mission to resupply Thule - Operation Pacer Goose - is always conducted in the Arctic summer. (U.S. Navy photo by Brian Hill)


Brian Hill, marine transportation specialist with MSC’s Military Sealift Command Atlantic in Norfolk, Va., noted that the annual operation to resupply this invaluable base, the northernmost unit of eight worldwide satellite tracking stations in the Air Force Satellite Control Network, began in 1952.

“Originally named Operation Blue Bird, U.S. Navy combatant assets were used to bring the goods to-and-from the base,” said Hill. “In 1969, MSC took the role and the mission was renamed Operation Pacer Goose.”

This year, 545-foot ice-class heavy-lift ship MV Ocean Giant and 591-foot ice-class tanker MV Maersk Peary conducted the mission. Each ship was escorted by Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Henry Larsen, rendezvousing 500 miles from Greenland for the treacherous voyage through icy Arctic waters to Thule’s port in Northstar Bay, a transit of approximately two-and-a-half days.

Ocean Giant, which loaded its cargo in Norfolk, Va., departed for Greenland July 9 and arrived July 20. The ship carried 71 pieces of cargo, which included containers of repair parts for the sensitive satellite and radar equipment; living supplies; a snow tractor, fire truck and bulldozer; and a modular housing unit. The full cargo load occupied 18,000 cubic feet. The supplies provide the base with essential dry goods, commissary, exchange and medical supplies for the 800 military and contractor personnel stationed there.

Maersk Peary, which departed Greece on June 28 and arrived in Thule July 17, delivered 250,000 barrels of JP-8 fuel. All of Thule’s operating systems, from vehicles to generators to the heating plant, rely primarily on the JP-8 fuel to provide electrical power and heating.

According to Hill, who was in Greenland July 19-27 to coordinate the operation, the weather was cold, rainy and windy despite the fact that summer means constant, 24-hour sunlight in Greenland.

“The job had to get done despite the conditions; it was just me and the crew of contracted Danish stevedores working 12-plus hour days to get everything offloaded in just a few days,” said Hill. “The inhospitable climate was unusually bad with winds gusting up to 50 knots, but it was the perfect climate for injury, so everyone was particularly careful.”

“The pier can only accommodate one vessel at a time,” Hill explained. “We brought Maersk Peary in at a 90-degree angle to the pier in what is known as a ‘med-moor.’ Both anchors hold the bow in place while four sets of lines hold the stern. The ship was about 50 feet from the pier and pumped fuel through hoses from that position.”

After the tanker departed on July 25, Ocean Giant pulled pierside. Once personnel off-loaded the supplies, they reloaded the ship with empty cargo containers and hazardous and solid waste produced during the previous year for disposal or reutilization when the ship returned to Norfolk. Ocean Giant completed its mission and departed on July 29.

This was Hill’s fourth trip to Thule to coordinate vessel operations, but the severe weather conditions still amaze him, he said. “Remember, Thule is 500 miles too far north to see the Northern Lights, but on the few occasions they do see them, they are called the Southern Lights,” Hill mused. “That should give you some idea of how alien the climate can be in Greenland.”



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