Carriers across all modes face down challenges every day, fighting traffic in crowded cities or driving vast distances to remote locations. But when Crowley Government Services Inc. got a contract to haul jet fuel to a U.S. Air Force base in the Arctic Circle, it had to jump through more hoops than usual.
The first challenge was to find a specialized ship for the job. In this case, Crowley contracted the Stena Polaris, which it then leased to the U.S. Military Sealift Command. The Stena Polaris is a 600-foot-long ice-qualified P-MAX tanker. P-MAX tankers are designed with extra width and less draft than comparable vessels in order to operate in shallower waters. And to ensure the safety of their flammable cargo, they feature backup systems for just about everything—propulsion, maneuvering, engines, shafts, generators, control and fuel systems, and rudders and propellers.
The next step was to hire bodyguards for that ship, in this case, two escort icebreakers named Des Groseilliers and Ocean Gladiator.
And finally, the carrier had to get the timing right, which in this case meant waiting until July or August, when the sea ice had melted enough to allow the passage of maritime vessels.
In early August, all the stars aligned. The Stena Polaris was loaded with 230,000 barrels of jet fuel and began its journey from Athens, Greece, through the Mediterranean, across the Atlantic, and up through the Labrador Sea to the Thule Air Base in Greenland. By all accounts, the weather was good and the sea mostly ice-free, and the vessel delivered its cargo without incident.