Press release

Research icebreaker Polarstern returns from the Antarctic prematurely

[06. January 2015] 

The German research icebreaker Polarstern will end its current expedition to the Antarctic earlier than planned. Due to hydraulic problems in the port engine, the ship will return to Bremerhaven for repairs in mid-March.

“Because of a malfunction in one of the variable-pitch propellers, the ship is now extremely difficult to manoeuvre in ice. As such, the AWI decided to break off the current Antarctic mission,” relates Dr Rainer Knust, Scientific Coordinator of RV Polarstern at the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI). A planned subsequent research voyage in the Amundsen Sea will unfortunately have to be cancelled.

Polarstern is currently in Atka Bay, where the crew is unloading fuel, provisions and replacement parts for Germany’s Neumayer III research station. If weather conditions remain stable, this should be completed by Monday of next week.

Afterwards, the research vessel will make its way to Cape Town, South Africa before embarking on the five-week return voyage to Bremerhaven. “Given how technically complex the necessary repairs on the drive system are, having them carried out at more readily accessible ports in South America or southern Africa at such short notice wasn’t a viable option,” explains Knust. The ship is tentatively scheduled to arrive at the Lloyd dock facilities in Bremerhaven in the second week of March.

The 118-metre-long research icebreaker Polarstern has been an active part of German polar research for more than 32 years, during which it has spent an average of 310 days per year at sea. In all those years, this is the first time that a research season in the Antarctic has had to be prematurely ended due to technical problems. As Knust summarises: “This shows that the Federal Ministry of Education and Research’s previously made decision to commission a successor ship to the Polarstern was both sound and necessary.”

Here you can find more information on the research ship Polarstern.


Notes for Editors: Your contact partner at the Alfred Wegener Institute is the Scientific Coordinator of RV Polarstern, Dr Rainer Knust (Tel. +49 471 4831-1709; At our press office, Sina Löschke (Tel.: +49 471 4831-2008; will also be pleased to help you with any questions.

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The Alfred Wegener Institute conducts research in the Arctic, Antarctic and in the high and mid-latitude oceans. The Institute coordinates German polar research and provides important infrastructure such as the research icebreaker Polarstern and research stations in the Arctic and Antarctic to the national and international scientific world. The Alfred Wegener Institute is one of the 18 research centres of the Helmholtz Association, the largest scientific organisation in Germany.



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Das Institut

Das Alfred-Wegener-Institut forscht in den Polarregionen und Ozeanen der mittleren und hohen Breiten. Als eines von 19 Forschungszentren der Helmholtz-Gemeinschaft koordiniert es Deutschlands Polarforschung und stellt Schiffe wie den Forschungseisbrecher Polarstern und Stationen für die internationale Wissenschaft zur Verfügung.