US icebreaker goes to rescue of trapped ships
A US icebreaker was dispatched yesterday to assist an icebound Russian research ship and Chinese vessel trapped during a rescue bid in Antarctica.
The US Coast Guard's Polar Star accepted an Australian request to go to the aid of the marooned Russian ship Akademik Shokalskiy, which has been beset by ice since Dec 24.
It will also aid the Chinese icebreaker Xue Long - "Snow Dragon" - which was involved in a dramatic helicopter rescue of the Shokalskiy's 52 passengers on Thursday.
The Xue Long has become trapped itself, with China vowing "all-out efforts" to assist the ship which is surrounded by ice of up to 4m thick and is stuck 21km from open water, according to state news agency Xinhua, which has reporters on board.
China's Antarctic division director Qu Tanzhou said the Xue Long may attempt to chop itself free of the ice today if conditions permit, with a massive iceberg expected to move out of its path.
The Polar Star, which left the US early last month to clear a channel for ships resupplying McMurdo Station research base, left Sydney yesterday with provisions, according to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.
The 122m ship is capable of continuously breaking ice up to 1.8m thick while travelling at three knots, and can break ice more than 6m thick by ramming it.
It is expected to take seven days to reach Commonwealth Bay where the two ships are trapped, 100 nautical miles from the French Antarctic base of Dumont d'Urville.
Besides the Xue Long and Polar Star, two other icebreakers, Australia's Aurora Australis and France's Astrolabe, were diverted from their Antarctic missions to assist the Shokalskiy, which was carrying 22 scientists, 26 paying passengers and four journalists as well as 22 crew who remain on board.
The Shokalskiy left New Zealand on Nov 28 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of an Antarctic journey led by Australian explorer Douglas Mawson.