Military Sealift Command Public Affairs
February 7, 2020
MSC Chartered Ship MT Maersk Peary Conducting Fuel Deliver Operations in Antarctica in Support of Operation Deep Freeze 2020
By Sarah Burford, Military Sealift Command Pacific
Military Sealift Command chartered ship MT Maersk Peary has arrived at McMurdo Station, Antarctica and is currently offloading nearly eight million gallons of diesel and jet fuel. The operation is part of MSC’s annual resupply mission in support of Operation Deep Freeze, the Joint Task Force Support for Antarctica mission to resupply the remote scientific outpost.
Peary, the second of three MSC ships bringing supplies to McMurdo Station this season, arrived at the Marine Causeway System (MCS) Feb. 4. The MCS replaces the traditional ice-pier, where cargo operations have been conducted in the past, this season. The crew of Peary will work with Seabees from Navy Cargo Handling Battalion ONE (NCHB -1) to offload their fuel cargo, which will sustain McMurdo station for the next year.
According to Capt. E.M Hatton, Peary’s civilian master, every precaution is taken when working with fuel delivery in Antarctica. In a place that receives fuel cargo only once a year, the ship’s crew and the Seabee cargo handlers exhibit extreme caution to inspect and test every line and link of the fuel delivery system, ensuring all can withstand the rush of pressurized product. In addition, the fuel must travel uphill to storage tanks, which further slows the process.
The precautions are not just for the safety of the crew and cargo handlers, they are also protections for Antarctica’s fragile environment. According to the World Wildlife Fund, The Antarctic region is one of the most pristine and remote wildernesses on the planet and his home to a wide variety of endangered animals and plant species, many of which can only be found in this one area of the world.
“The presence of endangered marine wildlife raises the stakes when we’re working in Antarctica,” explained Hatton. “Ashore there are increased safety measures. All crewmembers must have a brief on the dangers of Antarctica, before heading on hikes, that includes things like, ‘Stay on the trail and do not touch wildlife.’ We try to do everything we can to take care of this pristine place.”
This season, delays in schedules gave Peary the opportunity to do an at-sea fuel transfer with the United States Coast Guard ice-breaker Polar Star; something Hatton credits as a way to test his crew before arriving at McMurdo Station.
“The slow trudging, wedged together in the ice with Polar Star provided an opportunity to perform a lightering operation,” said Hatton. “With only one pump running, we discharged 534 thousand gallons of fuel over two days. The operation provided a dress rehearsal for the larger discharge to follow.”
Year after year, and mission after mission, participants note the unpredictability of the environment as a huge factor in working in Antarctica. The weather vacillates between eerie calm and sudden high wind gusts. Visibility can quickly sinks beneath a wall of white and temperatures that can fall to 20-30 degrees below zero can shut down all operations. Despite all these factors, Hatton, who is participating in his fifth ODF operation and his crew, all eagerly volunteered for the chance to see work in and meet head-on the all the challenges Antarctica has to offer.
“Seventy five percent of my crew are first-timers to McMurdo. Many are onboard Peary with the main reason of getting a chance to see Antarctica, and to test their resolve,” said Hatton. “The weather and isolation conspire against us in Antarctica, unlike anywhere else on Earth. If we perform best here, we can perform our best anywhere.”
Upon completion of their fuel delivery, Peary will depart McMurdo Station. They will be followed by a third MSC chartered ship, SLNC Magothy, who will deliver construction materials for an expansion project at McMurdo Station.
Operation Deep Freeze is a joint service, on-going Defense Support to Civilian Authorities activity in support of the National Science Foundation (NSF), lead agency for the United States Antarctic Program. Mission support consists of active duty, Guard and Reserve personnel from the U.S. Air Force, Navy, Army, and Coast Guard as well as Department of Defense civilians and attached non-DOD civilians. ODF operates from two primary locations situated at Christchurch, New Zealand and McMurdo Station, Antarctica.