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Coast Guard Icebreaker Sent on Antarctic Rescue Mission

 / Updated 
Image: Polar Star, the U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker, completes ice drills in the Arctic
Polar Star, the U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker, completes ice drills in the Arctic in this July 3, 2013 handout photo.US COAST GUARD / Reuters

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The U.S. Coast Guard on Tuesday dispatched a heavy icebreaker to rescue an Australian-flagged fishing vessel stuck in the ice in Antarctica with 26 people aboard. The 207-foot vessel suffered damage to three of its four propeller blades and has lost the ability to maneuver, the Coast Guard said.

The Antarctic Chieftain is stuck some 900 miles northeast of McMurdo Sound, Antarctica. The Coast Guard’s Polar Star cutter must travel more than 330 miles to reach the vessel.

But to get there, it will have to break through several miles of ice nine feet thick, weather 35 mph winds and navigate through heavy snowfall, the Coast Guard said. It should reach the ship at around 1 a.m. E.T. Friday.

The Polar Star had just finished a mission to McMurdo Station when it was asked by New Zealand officials to help in the rescue, officials said. The 399-foot vessel is the only U.S. icebreaker capable of undertaking a mission like this in the Antarctic, the Coast Guard said. The crew on the fishing ship has plenty of supplies as they wait to be freed, officials said.

Other vessels have become stuck in the heavy Antarctic ice: In January 2014, a Russian research ship and a Chinese icebreaker that were stranded broke free. The Polar Star, which had been dispatched to assist, stood down after the vessels emerged from the ice.

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— Miranda Leitsinger

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