US Coastguard back in NZ waters after decades-long absence
The United States Coast Guard is poised to return to New Zealand for the first time in decades with a stop over on its way home from Antarctica.
The Coast Guard icebreaker USCGC Polar Star will be on its way back from completing seasonal operations in Antarctica when it stops at Lyttelton.
It will be the first visit by a US Coast Guard vessel since the 1980s and follows an ice breaking visit by a US warship, the USS Sampson, during New Zealand naval celebrations.
The US has only recently lifted its bar on military vessels docking in New Zealand, a policy that stemmed from the Anzus bust-up over New Zealand's anti nuclear legislation.
US Air Force planes continued to fly out of Christchurch, a key Antarctic programme hub.
The Polar Star is used to break a channel through the sea ice of McMurdo Sound to allow a cargo ship and fuel tanker to resupply the scientific programmes on the idea. The icebreaker then escorts ships in and out of McMurdo Sound.
Candy Green, US Charge D'Affaires at the US Embassy in Wellington, said the annual US resupply allowed for year -round scientific activities in Antarctica and was critical to the operation of McMurdo Station. The station serves as a logistics hub for Amundsen-Scott South Pole Stations 1287km inland from McMurdo and various field camps, as well as operation of New Zealand's Scott Base.
The stopover in New Zealand made a lot of sense, Green said.
"A number of the scientific programmes in Antarctica will benefit from this year's supply stop in Lyttleton. This visit saves days of transit time for the vessel and the fuel associated saves money and strengthens our joint co-operation on the ice. Additionally doing it this way frees up space on the US Antarctic Program's fleet of ski equipped LC-130 cargo aircraft to conduct missions on the continent."
The possibility of any future US ship visits to New Zealand would continue to be considered on a case-by-case basis by the two countries, Green said.
For the Polar Star visit the US first sought and was granted New Zealand permission. Under New Zealand's anti-nuclear free law the government has to be satisfied visiting military vessels are not nuclear armed.
Green said any conversations about the possibility of future visits would focus on "practical co-operation, friendship and advancing shared interests".
The USS Sampson broke the ice for US ship visits when it was invited to New Zealand's 75th naval celebrations. It arrived as the Kaikoura earthquakes struck and was diverted to the South Island to ship in supplies and rescue stranded civilians.