Ice-bound fishing vessel being towed to open water

The United States Coast Guard icebreaker CG Polar Star is now towing the Australian-flagged fishing vessel Antarctic Chieftain to open water in Antarctica.

The Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ) is responding to a request for assistance from the 63m Antarctic Chieftain, owned by Australian Longline Pty, which became trapped after damaging three of the four blades of its propeller. The request for assistance came in on Wednesday after the Antarctic Chieftain damaged its propeller blades trying to break though ice floes.

The Polar Star made its way through icy waters and reached the Antarctic Chieftain earlier this morning (Saturday). 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 of making way through the ice under its own power.

RCCNZ Search and Rescue Mission Coordinator Conrad Reynecke said the ROV was able to ascertain the extent of the damage.

“The blades were assessed as too badly damaged for the vessel to be able to use them for propulsion from the ice field.

“The crew on the Polar Star then rigged up tow lines and began to tow the Antarctic Chieftain to open water. They are making slow, but steady progress and are currently approximately 60 nautical miles from clear water in the North,” Mr Reynecke said.

Meanwhile the New Zealand-flagged fishing boat, Janas, is also proceeding to the area to provide assistance if required.

“The Janas has been making good progress, and is around 485 nautical miles (900 km) to the north-west, and expects to reach the area on Monday night,” Mr Reynecke said.

Weather conditions for all three vessels continue to be favourable.

The Antarctic Chieftain is located at the eastern edge of New Zealand’s search and rescue region, approximately 900 nautical miles (1,700 km) from McMurdo Sound.

There is 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.