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US Cargo Ship Delivers New Causeway Along with Supplies to Antarctic

Antarctic resupply mission
Ocean Giant on charter to the Military Sealift Command arrived at McMurdo to offload supplies and the new causeway (Photos by Senior Chief Petty Officer RJ Stratchko, Navy Expeditionary Logistics Support Group)

Published Feb 3, 2023 7:05 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Military Sealift Command is well underway with this year’s installment of the annual Operation Deep Freeze to resupply the United States’ remote scientific outpost at McMurdo Station, Antarctica. The mission began in December with the loading of cargo aboard two chartered U.S. cargo ships in California, but this year it is facing an added challenge to replace the supply pier at the station while also conducting the resupply mission.

The chartered cargo ship Ocean Giant (19,382 dwt) departed California on December 23 for the annual mission and arrived at McMurdo Station on January 24 after a stop in New Zealand. In years past, Ocean Giant arrived at the ice-pier at McMurdo Station, a structure made up of rebar and frozen seawater, where cargo offloads were conducted. However, this year due to severe damage, and the weight of the cargo, the ice-pier was unavailable.

Assigned to this year’s mission are soldiers from the 7th Transport Brigade (Expeditionary) from the U.S. Army with the mission to replace the pier with their marine causeway system. The 65-ton pier was transported to the Antarctic consisting of ten, 24-foot, pre-assembled pieces. Six string units were assembled on deck placed into the water and then joined into two sections. These sections were attached to the others to form the final pier.

 

Causeway sections being offloaded and moved into place

 

“We began offloading our equipment from the Ocean Giant right away so that we could build the pier where the ice-pier was,” said Staff Sgt. Donald Harris, 7th TB(X) pilot of the pier. The brigade’s role is causeway building and they use the U.S. Army’s modular system which is unique because it has a one-foot draft permitting it to get closer to shore. 

The brigade faced the added challenge of dealing with sheets of ice that litter the harbor and move and spin from the wind. Commanders said it was good training handling ice noting that they had to break ice twice before in 2012 and again in 2020.

The 7th TB(X) joined with the Seabees from Navy Cargo Handling Battalion One who have been working around the clock since Ocean Giant arrived to offload the 443 pieces of cargo. This year’s shipment includes containers filled with mechanical parts, vehicles, construction materials, office supplies, and electronics equipment and vehicles. The supplies will provide nearly 80 percent of the items needed for survival over the severe arctic winter when the station is cut off from the rest of the world.

The cargo handlers work with Ocean Giant’s crew, and the MSC representative, to execute the offload and backload of a variety of cargo. The Antarctic Support Contract logistics team manages the loads and stow plans for the United States Antarctic Program, as well as the New Zealand Defense Force who assist with rigging and transporting loads from the pier to designated laydown areas. Ocean Giant is being joined on this year’s mission by a second cargo ship, Ocean Gladiator (17,700 dwt), which is currently in Lyttelton, New Zealand before departing for McMurdo Station.

Upon completion of their cargo offload, Ocean Giant will load containers of retrograde as well as ice-core samples for scientific study, and return to Port Hueneme. MSC-chartered ships have made the challenging voyage to Antarctica every year since the station and its resupply missions were established in 1955.