Chinese icebreaker stuck after helping in Antarctic rescue

Fri Jan 3, 2014 6:02am EST
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By Maggie Lu Yueyang

SYDNEY (Reuters) - A Chinese icebreaker that helped rescue 52 passengers from a Russian ship stranded in Antarctic ice found itself stuck in heavy ice on Friday, further complicating the 9-day "roller-coaster" rescue operation.

The Snow Dragon had ferried the passengers from the stranded Russian ship to an Australian icebreaker late on Thursday. It now had concerns about its own ability to move through heavy ice, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) said.

"It will attempt to maneuver through the ice when tidal conditions are most suitable during the early hours of 4 January 2014," AMSA said.

The Australian icebreaker carrying the rescued passengers, the Aurora Australis, will remain on standby in open water in the area "as a precautionary measure", the rescue agency said.

The Aurora Australis had meant to sail towards an Antarctic base to complete a resupply before carrying the rescued passengers back to Australia.

A helicopter from the Snow Dragon carried the 52 scientists and tourists in small groups from the ice-bound Akademik Shokalskiy to the Australian supply ship late on Thursday.

The rescue, delayed due to weather and ice conditions, took around five hours to complete. It had been a "roller-coaster" rescue, said Greg Mortimer, one of three expedition leaders on the Akademik Shokalskiy.

"I was immensely relieved for the people under my care," Mortimer, quoted by the Age newspaper, said after arriving on the Aurora Australis. He said he was "very sad" to leave behind the Russian vessel and its crew.   Continued...

A helicopter from the Xue Long (Snow Dragon) Chinese icebreaker unloads rescued passengers from the ice-bound Russian ship, Akademik Shokalskiy, in East Antarctica, some 100 nautical miles (185 km) east of French Antarctic station Dumont D'Urville and about 1,500 nautical miles (2,800 km) south of Hobart, Tasmania, January 2, 2014, in this handout courtesy of Fairfax's Australian Antarctic Division. REUTERS/Fairfax/Australian Antarctic Division/Handout via Reuters