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April 2012

Despite challenges, Green Wave delivers for Operation Deep Freeze
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MSC completes annual Antarctic supply run

By James Marconi, MSC Public Affairs

A Modular Causeway System alongside MV Green Wave
A Modular Causeway System alongside Military Sealift Command-chartered cargo ship MV Green Wave allows the off-load of vital cargo at McMurdo Station, Antarctica. U.S. Navy photo by Larry Larsson

Fifty-seven years of experience participating in the annual supply run to McMurdo Station, Antarctica, has taught Military Sealift Command well that operational conditions can shift as rapidly as the Antarctic weather.

MSC-chartered tanker MT Maersk Peary and MSC-chartered dry cargo ship MV Green Wave successfully delivered food, fuel and other supplies to McMurdo Station as part of Operation Deep Freeze, the resupply mission currently led by Joint Task Force - Support Forces Antarctica.

Two MSC ships have made the trip each year since 1955, when the remote National Science Foundation outpost was established, to deliver vital cargo such as food and fuel.

There is no such thing as a routine mission to this extreme environment, where thick ice and frigid temperatures block the path of the critical supplies carried by MSC ships. Delivery difficulties were even more complex this year for Green Wave's 6.8 million pounds of cargo, including research equipment, which had to be off-loaded without the usual ice pier used to bridge the gap from ship to shore.

Cargo delivery planning

Typically, the MSC cargo ship off-loads its valuable cargo at a 500-foot ice pier that juts out from the Antarctic coast. This year's mission was one of the more challenging in the last two decades, as the ice pier at McMurdo was unusable for dry cargo operations. In the process of constructing a new, improved ice pier, it became clear that the requisite amount of ice to handle the weight of Green Wave's cargo would not accumulate on the pier's surface in time for the mission.

MV Green Wave
Navy cargo-handling personnel off-load Green Wave after the Modular Causeway System was assembled and ready to handle heavy loads. U.S. Navy photo by Boatswain's Mate 2nd Class Nelson Doromal

Canceling the ship's trip, though, was not an option.

During this single mission, MSC ships deliver 100 percent of the fuel and about 80 percent of the supplies that researchers and support personnel who live and work in Antarctica need for the upcoming year.

"MSC's Operation Deep Freeze support is truly a 'no failure accepted' mission," said Tim McCully, deputy commander of MSC Pacific, which oversees MSC operations across the Eastern Pacific Ocean, including McMurdo. "Without the fuel, food and other support materials delivered by our chartered ships, researchers could not continue their operations through the brutal Antarctic winter."

The National Science Foundation proposed using a portable, floating pier capable of being broken down and transported by Green Wave as an alternate solution in lieu of the ice pier. This type of equipment is highly specialized, but was available from the U.S. Army's 331st Transportation Company (Causeway), which deployed 41 personnel from Virginia to McMurdo to assemble and operate the pier, called a Modular Causeway System, or MCS.

The company prepared the pieces of the MCS in December 2011 for transport via truck from Virginia to California, where the entire system was loaded aboard Green Wave. The ship underwent a standard, rigorous, MSC-led inspection later that month to ensure the ship's readiness to complete its mission. Bill Wright, part of MSC's Ship Inspection Branch, stayed with the ship until mid-January to supervise emergent repairs that needed to be made before Green Wave's departure Jan. 11 from Port Hueneme.

Dissassembling a portion of the Modular Causeway System
Army Sergeant First Class Jacob VanDyke, Specialist Alpan Risvanoglu and Specialist Eric Burmeister, part of the Army's 331st Transportation Company (Causeway) dissassemble a portion of the Modular Causeway System. U.S. Army photo by CPT Christina Shelton

Making the delivery

Prior to Green Wave's arrival Feb. 13, Maersk Peary - following a Russian icebreaker ship - brought more than 6.3 million gallons of crucial diesel, gasoline and jet fuel to McMurdo Station Jan. 28-31.

"The tanker portion went very well; there was great cooperation with the icebreaker and cargo ops went off without a hitch," said John Joerger, tanker project officer at MSC headquarters. "We had no weather delays, which meant that the tanker was in and out rapidly and did not impede the dry cargo operations."

Green Wave, meanwhile, got underway to Antarctica Feb. 6 and like Maersk Peary, faced one final obstacle to reaching McMurdo. Although Maersk Peary and Green Wave have hulls designed to withstand the pressure of ice, both ships were escorted through a 15-mile ice channel - in some places more than 13 feet thick - by an icebreaker that carved a safe path to the station.

Once Green Wave safely arrived at McMurdo Station, the 331st Transportation Company personnel went to work off-loading the MCS, now the key to successfully transporting supplies from ship to shore.

Although most of the interlocking pieces of the MCS had to be assembled on the scene, the company saved four days of work in California by pre-assembling the powered modular warping tugs that helped anchor the system, said Army Capt. Christina Shelton, who led the team.

That time-saving procedure still left the two-and-a-half-day assembly of 24 individual causeway modules comprising a 40-foot piece and two 20-foot pieces on each end. In transport aboard Green Wave, those end pieces were folded on top of the larger piece, connected only by a device similar to a hinge. Shelton's team linked the modules together with locking pins after the modules were unfolded and placed in the water.

MT Maersk Peary
MSC-chartered tanker MT Maersk Peary discharges more than 6 million gallons of vital fuel to McMurdo Station in late January. Photo courtesy of the crew of MT Maersk Peary

"Nothing really prepares you for those temperatures and that wind. For us in particular, there is no place for us to take cover or warm up," said Shelton. "Since things were freezing and ice was getting in between the modules, it was becoming a little bit difficult to get the locking pins into place. We had to do all that manually."

Powered by the same cold-weather fuel used at McMurdo, the warping tugs helped anchor the MCS in place aided by cables attached to bollards and heavy bulldozers ashore.

"The members of the 331st Transportation Company really stepped up to this challenge," said Timothy Pickering, cargo project officer at MSC headquarters. "The talented men and women in the unit deployed this very unique capability, allowing our ship to accomplish its vital mission."

After the causeway was ready, approximately 60 Navy Cargo Handling Battalion One personnel worked around-the-clock for eight days to off-load Green Wave's cargo, then load the ship with 391 pieces of cargo for transportation off the continent, including ice core samples carried back to the United States in sub-zero freezer containers. The ship also took on trash and recyclable materials for disposal.

"This year the surface mission was truly a joint effort," said Larry Larsson, the MSC cargo operations officer who oversaw Green Wave's offload. "MSC, Navy Cargo Handling Battalion One and the Army's 331st Transportation Company delivered."

Shelton's transportation company repacked the MCS, although without needing to refold all the modules. Cargo operations ended Feb. 24, and Green Wave departed McMurdo Station Feb. 25.

"We felt great," Shelton said. "When we were told what this was all about, what the National Science Foundation does there, the supplies that they rely on, we were really excited and privileged to get to support that."