The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star (WAGB 10) departed Valparaiso, Wednesday, following a multi-day visit where the crew conducted professional exchanges with Chilean Navy and First Naval Zone members, as well as students from the Chilean-U.S. Binational Center.
During the five-day port call, U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Keith Ropella, commanding officer of Polar Star, met Monday with Rear Adm. Juan Zuniga, Commander of the First Naval Zone, discussing bilateral agreements and maritime governance and cooperation. Polar Star crewmembers held tours Tuesday for media, Chilean Navy members, U.S. Embassy staff, and Chilean-U.S. Binational Center students.
Additionally, Polar Star crewmembers rendered honors Wednesday to the Heroes of Iquique at the changing of the guard ceremony in historic Plaza Sotomayor. It was one of the largest foreign military delegations to participate in the ceremony, which honors the sailors killed in the Battle of Iquique in 1879. One of the fallen sailors was Eduardo Hyatt, an American citizen who served as Chief Engineer onboard the Chilean frigate Esmeralda.
“We are thrilled and honored to be in Valparaiso; it’s been seven years since we made a port call in this city and more than 35 years since we visited Punta Arenas,” said Ropella. “I can’t thank the First Naval Zone and Chilean Navy enough for their hospitality during our visit. Chile has always been a reliable partner in supporting our annual Operation Deep Freeze mission, which is emblematic of the deep and enduring military and scientific collaboration we have with Chile, especially as we celebrate the 200-year anniversary of Chile-U.S. relations.”
The Polar Star and crew recently finished Operation Deep Freeze 2023, where the cutter and crew broke a 15-mile channel through fast ice and conducted over 1,600 hours of ice breaking operations to create a navigable route for cargo vessels to reach McMurdo Station. The Polar Star and crew executed more than 60 hours of ice escorts for cargo vessels through difficult pack ice conditions.
Upon departing Antarctica, the cutter and crew made a logistics stop in Punta Arenas, and embarked two Chilean Navy shipriders, who are prospective crewmembers of the new Chilean Navy icebreaker currently under construction. The shipriders were invited to observe the operation and navigation of a U.S. icebreaker for professional development. This was the first port call in Punta Arenas since December 1987.
“The experience on board was incredible, as we were able to learn how a coast guard ship works and operates,” said Chilean Navy shiprider Lt. j.g. Joaquin Labbe. “The crew and officers showed us their daily work, taught us how they navigate and educated us on the equipment they used. From the first day, we felt like we were part of the Polar Star crew, and we were impressed with the hospitality.”
In addition to bilateral engagements, the Polar Star crew hosted several Chilean-U.S. Binational Center students aboard to learn about the U.S. Coast Guard, the Polar Star, and the mission.
The Chilean-U.S. Binational Center of Valparaiso is an education center where adults and students can take English courses and attend youth camps. As a binational center they are an intercultural bridge between the United States of America and Chile. Through the teaching of the English language, they give impetus to the Chilean-American cultural exchange. They are a team aware of our responsibility to materialize, manage and administer a defined cultural program based on the values of both nations.
Operation Deep Freeze is the annual logistical support mission provided by the Department of Defense to the National Science Foundation (NSF) managed by the U.S. Antarctic Program (USAP). This includes coordination of strategic inter-theater airlift, tactical intra-theater airlift and airdrop, aeromedical evacuation support, search and rescue response, sealift, seaport access, bulk fuel supply, port cargo handling, and transportation requirements supporting the NSF. This is a unique mission demonstrating U.S. commitment to the Antarctic Treaty and to research programs conducted for the betterment of all humanity. The Polar Star and crew contribute to this yearly effort through icebreaking to clear the channel for supply vessels.
The Polar Star is the United States’ only asset capable of providing access to both Polar Regions. It is a 399-foot heavy polar icebreaker commissioned in 1976, weighing 13,500 tons and is 84-feet wide with a 34-foot draft. The six diesel and three gas turbine engines produce up to 75,000 horsepower.