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THE U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star is traveling at eight knots through severe weather toward a stranded foreign-flagged vessel icebound in the Antarctic.

The Seattle-based cutter is barely out of a three-year, $90 million overhaul at Vigor Industrial shipyard. Reactivated about 13 months ago, the cutter’s current mission is to resupply and refuel the U.S. Antarctic Program at McMurdo Station.

That assignment is on hold as the Polar Star responded to requests from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, and the Russian and Chinese governments, to aid their stranded ships.

That rescue effort was revised Tuesday as the Chinese icebreaker was able to break free. The Polar Star is still on course to aid the Russian ship, whose passengers were removed by helicopter flights, with the help of the Chinese.

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“We are always ready and duty bound to render assistance in one of the most remote and harsh environments on the face of the globe,” Vice Adm. Paul F. Zukunft, Coast Guard Pacific area commander, noted in a statement.

The Polar Star is the only active heavy polar icebreaker in the U.S. fleet. This episode reinforces the need for continued investment in icebreakers to match the rigorous conditions in the Antarctic and Arctic, and meet the nation’s obligations to defend and protect its interests in those regions.

In 2011, another Coast Guard icebreaker, the Healy, rated for medium ice-breaking duty, escorted a Russian vessel with 1.3 million gallons of fuel through hundreds of miles of Bering Sea ice to Nome, Alaska.

The Polar Sea, a second heavy polar icebreaker, was headed for the scrap heap before it was pointed toward recommissioning.

Changing climate conditions in the Arctic and global plans to exploit a new sea route make the case for providing the U.S. Coast Guard with the tools to do its job.

Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).

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