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Coast Guard cutter frees fishing vessel trapped in ice

Australian fishing vessel trapped in ice is now free

An Australian fishing vessel that had been stuck in Antarctic ice for nearly a week is now freed.

The vessel, called the Antarctic Chieftain, got out of its icy trap Friday night with the assistance of the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Polar Star.

The Polar Star will now tow the Antarctic Chieftain to open water to test whether the ship can maneuver itself after three of its four propeller blades were damaged by ice, according to a statement from the Coast Guard.

Once this testing is complete, the two ships will continue north through 60 miles of icy sea to meet a New Zealand fishing vessel that will either escort or tow the Antarctic Chieftain to a safe harbor, Chief Warrant Officer Allyson Conroy, assistant public affairs officer for the Coast Guard, said Saturday.

The Antarctic Chieftain's 26-person crew is fine, with plenty of provisions and fuel. They got a Valentine's Day present of sugar cookies from the Polar Star crew.

The Polar Star, with a crew of 150, is one of the largest ships in the Coast Guard and the nation's only heavy icebreaker capable of plowing through the Antarctic ice.

The Polar Star got a call for help Tuesday night and sailed for two and a half days to reach the Australian vessel. 

Cmdr. Kenneth Boda, executive officer of the Polar Star, said there were a few days of blizzard conditions, when everything turned white.

"Right now, we probably have four miles of visibility, with snow flurries all around, which is a little disconcerting when there's icebergs," he told the Los Angeles Times on Friday.

The Antarctic Chieftain was due south of Tahiti. Boda described the scene as an "iceberg alley" of 100-foot-tall ice blocks with flat tops, similar to pieces of toffee that have been broken with a hammer. The Antarctic Chieftain was hemmed in on all sides.

"The vessel was entirely surrounded by old ice, so if the Polar Star couldn't get on scene, they [Antarctic Chieftain] would have had to winter there," Conroy said Saturday. "It was pretty dire."

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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATE

4:37 p.m.: This story has been updated to report that an Australian fishing vessel had been freed from Antarctic ice.

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