Polar Star officer steps up to ship’s command

The crew of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star posed for a group photo on Jan. 2, about 10 miles north of McMurdo Station, Antarctica. The ship has a complement of 130 permanent crew members. Photo by U.S. Coast Guard Senior Chief Petty Officer NyxoLyno Cangemi

U.S. Coast Guard Capt. William Woityra has taken the helm of the nation’s only heavy icebreaker, the 44-year-old Polar Star, relieving Capt. Gregory Stanclik as commanding officer, at Mare Island Dry Dock in Vallejo, Calif.

“To the crew of the Polar Star, the tide has shifted and it’s time for me to set sail on the next leg of my Coast Guard journey,” said Stanclik, during scaled-back ceremonies on June 12 designed to support COVID-19 physical distancing practices. “At the end of the day, if you remember nothing else, remember this: Polar Star is an incredible ship, and what makes her incredible is the crew. It has been an honor and a privilege to serve with you.”

For Woityra, who served as executive officer on the Polar Star, this is his second at-sea command. He previously served as the Coast Guard Cutter Healy’s operations officer and as commanding officer of the Coast Guard Cutter Neah Bay.

Stanclik is transferring to Coast Guard headquarters for marine transportation systems in Washington D.C. He took command of the Polar Star in June 2018 and led two Operation Deep Freeze deployments.

During his first deployment, the crew overcame numerous engineering challenges in the Antarctic environment, including sending divers into freezing waters to repair broken shaft seals. During his second deployment, the Polar Star escorted three ships to McMurdo station. The cutter also partnered with the U.S. State Department and National Science Foundation to conduct Antarctic Treat inspections of Chinese, Korean and Italian research stations. The last such Coast Guard supported inspections were in 1995.

The Polar Star crew has conducted Operation Deep Freeze deployments annually since the ship’s reactivation in 2014. Its primary objective is breaking a channel through fast ice to resupply the McMurdo Research Station. Resupply ships use the channel to bring food, fuel and other supplies to support a year of operations by the U.S. Antarctic Program.