Peary, the second of three MSC ships bringing supplies to McMurdo Station this season, arrived at the Marine Causeway System (MCS) Feb. 4. The MCS replaces the traditional ice-pier, where cargo operations have been conducted in the past, this season. The crew of Peary will work with Seabees from Navy Cargo Handling Battalion ONE (NCHB -1) to offload their fuel cargo, which will sustain McMurdo station for the next year.
According to Capt. E.M Hatton, Peary’s civilian master, every precaution is taken when working with fuel delivery in Antarctica. In a place that receives fuel cargo only once a year, the ship’s crew and the Seabee cargo handlers exhibit extreme caution to inspect and test every line and link of the fuel delivery system, ensuring all can withstand the rush of pressurized product. In addition, the fuel must travel uphill to storage tanks, which further slows the process.
“The slow trudging, wedged together in the ice with Polar Star provided an opportunity to perform a lightering operation,” said Hatton. “With only one pump running, we discharged 534 thousand gallons of fuel over two days. The operation provided a dress rehearsal for the larger discharge to follow.”
Year after year, and mission after mission, participants note the unpredictability of the environment as a huge factor in working in Antarctica. The weather vacillates between eerie calm and sudden high wind gusts. Visibility can quickly sinks beneath a wall of white and temperatures that can fall to 20-30 degrees below zero can shut down all operations. Despite all these factors, Hatton, who is participating in his fifth ODF operation and his crew, all eagerly volunteered for the chance to see work in and meet head-on the all the challenges Antarctica has to offer.
“Seventy five percent of my crew are first-timers to McMurdo. Many are onboard Peary with the main reason of getting a chance to see Antarctica, and to test their resolve,” said Hatton. “The weather and isolation conspire against us in Antarctica, unlike anywhere else on Earth. If we perform best here, we can perform our best anywhere.”