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Ice-bound fishing vessel reaches open water in Antarctica - Seaman Patrick O'Grady uses an axe to release towing line passed from the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star to the fishing vessel Antarctic Chieftain near Antarctica, Feb. 14, 2015.
Polar Star's crew will tow the disabled vessel to open water. Polar Star's crew has been underway in Antarctica in support of Operation Deep Freeze 2015, part of the U.S. Antarctic Program, managed by the National Science Foundation

16 February 2015: 4.00pm

The Australian-flagged fishing vessel Antarctic Chieftain has now reached open water in Antarctica has rendezvoused with New Zealand fishing boat Janas, around 40 nautical miles (75km) clear of the ice.

The Antarctic Chieftain will now head to Nelson under its own steam after it was escorted through ice for three days by the United States Coast Guard icebreaker CGC Polar Star.

The Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ) coordinated the rescue of the vessel, which became trapped after damaging three of the four blades of its propeller and requesting assistance on Wednesday, 11 February.

The Janas is likely to accompany the Antarctic Chieftain for around two days as its performance in open water is assessed. It is currently travelling at around 7knots (13km/h) and has around 2400 nautical miles (4445km) to travel to Nelson. Twice daily reports will be made to the RCCNZ.

Depending on weather conditions, this could take up around two weeks.

The Polar Star is now resuming its voyage home to Seattle.

RCCNZ Search and Rescue Mission Coordinator Dave Wilson said the operation to free the vessel from the ice had been challenging.

“The crew of the Polar Star and the U.S Coast Guard have done an outstanding job and we’d like to thank them all for their efforts. They’ve worked around-the-clock in extreme conditions to bring the Antarctic Chieftainto safer waters,” he said.

“We’d also like to thank the captain and crew of the Janas for making themselves available to provide assistance.”

The Polar Star made its way through the ice to reach the Antarctic Chieftain early on Saturday morning. After breaking the ice around the Antarctic Chieftain, the crew of the Polar Star deployed an ROV (remotely operated underwater vehicle) to assess the extent of the propeller damage and whether the Antarctic Chieftain was capable ofmaking way through the ice under its own power.

The Polar Star crew assessed the Antarctic Chieftain’s propeller blades as too badly damaged for the vessel to be able to use them for propulsion during the first part of the journey from the ice field.

The icebreaker then cut a path through the heavy ice and then rigged up a tow line and began to tow the Antarctic Chieftain through the ice pack, making steady progress. The Polar Star released the tow with the Antarctic Chieftain at times to cut a track through the ice and the tow rope broke twice while the towing operation was underway.

The Antarctic Chieftain has a crew of 26 on board, 13 of which are New Zealanders.

The fishing boat’s hull is not damaged, and there has been no spill of oil from the vessel.

U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class George Degener
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