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Military Sealift Command, Seabees support Operation Deep Freeze

13 February 2020

From Sarah Burford, MSC Pacific

Three MSC chartered ships have been delivering fuel and supplies to Antarctica with the support of Navy Cargo Handling Battalion (NCHB) 1.

SAN DIEGO - Military Sealift Command charter ship SLNC Magothy has arrived at McMurdo Station, Antarctica, and is conducting cargo offload operations as part of Operation Deep Freeze, the annual Joint Task Force Support for Antarctica mission to resupply the remote scientific outpost.

Magothy arrived safely in Antarctica following a slight change in route from Tauranga, New Zealand, due to rough seas and weather. Cargo mates on the ship, working with Seabees from Navy Cargo Handling Battalion (NCHB) 1, based in Williamsburg, Virginia, are working around-the-clock offloading the cargo which consists of nearly 5,000 metric tons of construction materials and equipment that will be used to expand the facilities at McMurdo Station.

In recent weeks, MSC-chartered container ship MV Ocean Giant and chartered ship MT Maersk Peary have delivered 6,000 tons of supplies such as frozen and dry food stores, building materials, vehicles, and electronic equipment, along with eight million gallons of diesel and jet fuel.

Like the two other MSC chartered ships that have concluded their missions in Antarctica, extreme weather at the bottom of the earth, have made Magothy’s mission different from any other in which they have participated. According to Capt. Eric Swanson, Magothy’s civilian master, planning was the big factor in preparation for operations on the “ice”.

“The cold conditions and weather make this mission a challenge. A lot of preparation and training was necessary to keep crew prepared and safe to head off these challenges,” explained Swanson. “Careful planning with MSC, the ship’s operating company, the ice pilots and the cargo planners is essential for safety.”

Swanson went onto explain that in addition to his crew of 18 professional Merchant Mariners, two ice pilots and a crane technician were added for the ODF mission. Once at inside the channel, during their approach to McMurdo Station, a Docking Pilot came onboard to assist with docking the vessel at the MCS. The professional ship handlers, crew and pilots are all in place to ensure any challenges Mother Nature can conjure up in Antarctica can be addressed, ensuring a safe and successful mission.

“Weather is a serious issue!” said Swanson. “The lack of tug boats on station to assist vessels if the winds get to severe is something we had to really consider with this mission. Because of that, we take extra precautions with mooring the vessel with extra mooring lines. That is the reason we bring the right people with us to handle anything that comes at us.”

Magothy is conducting the cargo offload at the Marine Causeway System (MCS) that was put in place to replace the traditional ice-pier that has been used in years past. The MCS was delivered by the first MSC ship to arrive in Antarctica, MV Ocean Giant. Upon completion of their cargo delivery, Magothy will retrieve the MCS, load it onto the ship and return it to Port Hueneme, Calif., where their mission began in early January.

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.

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