Russian, Chinese Ships Escape Death Throes Of Southern Ocean Ice
January 7, 2014

Russian, Chinese Ships Escape Death Throes Of Southern Ocean Ice

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

UPDATE: January 7, 2014 @ 9:45 a.m.

Two ships that had been stranded in a sea of ice in the Southern Ocean, one since Christmas Eve, have broken free.

The passengers of the Russian research vessel Akademik Shokalskiy were rescued on January 2 by helicopter from Chinese icebreaker Xue Long. However, that ship also got stuck in the sea ice the following day. The rescued passengers were safely boarded onto an Australian ship (Aurora Australis) and were no longer in the death throes of the sea ice.

Yury Volgov, director of the Far-Eastern Hydrometeorology Research Institute, which owns the Russian research vessel, told RT news that the change in wind direction caused a shift in the ice drift, opening up an escape route for the ships.

"We're going slowly and zig-zagging, we've already moved more than 20 [nautical] miles," Captain Igor Kiselyov of the Russian ship told Itar-Tass news agency. "It's tough going so far, a lot of mist, visibility is no more than 500 metres."

He confirmed in the interview that the Chinese ship was also moving out of the ice, just south of the Akademik Shokalskiy.

"It may catch up with us - in that case, we'll follow in its wake. But if not, we'll get out together, independently," he said.

A separate report by Xinhua news agency said that the Xue Long had already reached ice free waters. It said that the vessel had “escaped after making a 100-degree turn and pushing away the ice, thereby splitting it and opening up a channel of water.”

An American Coast Guard icebreaker, Polar Star, was deployed to the region to attempt a rescue of the two ships and was expected to reach the area by week’s end.

UPDATE: January 5, 2014 @ 5:00 a.m.

An American icebreaker is en route to the Antarctic in order to help the Russian research vessel that has been trapped in ice since Christmas Eve, as well as a Chinese resupply ship that became entrenched while assisting in rescue efforts, the Wall Street Journal and other media outlets are reporting.

According to the Associated Press (AP), the US Coast Guard heavy icebreaker Polar Star departed from Australia on Sunday in order to help the 120 total crew members trapped onboard the two vessels. The nearly 400-foot cutter is coming to assist because “there is sufficient concern that the vessels may not be able to free themselves from the ice,” the Coast Guard said in a statement.

“Earlier this week, a helicopter ferried 52 passengers from the MV Akadmik Shokalskiy to the Australian icebreaker Aurora Australis,” said’s Greg Botelho. The Xue Long (Snow Dragon) sent out a helicopter used to ferry passengers to the Australian ship, but it too wound up being stuck in the ice. The captain of the Chinese vessel told the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) the crew has plenty of food and supplies, and that the vessel was in no immediate danger.

The Polar Star is expected to arrive in approximately one week, according to BBC News. As for the researchers and passengers rescued from the MV Akadmik Shokalskiy, they will be transported to Hobart once the Aurora Australis completes a resupply mission at the Casey research base on the Windmill Islands, the British news agency added.

UPDATE: January 3, 2014 @ 6:30 a.m.

The 52 people transported off of a stranded research ship in the Antarctic will have to wait a little longer to begin their journey home, as the Australian icebreaker carrying them has been advised that it may be needed to help a Chinese vessel also involved in the rescue effort.

Chinese polar resupply ship Xue Long (Snow Dragon), which provided the helicopter used to transport scientists and passengers from the MV Akademik Shokalskiy to the Aurora Australis Thursday, is now concerned that it could also become trapped in the heavy sea ice, Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) officials told early Friday morning.

Therefore, the Aurora Australis has been on standby in case the Xue Long needs assistance. The Australian vessel will “remain in open water off Commonwealth Bay, south of Hobart, as a precautionary measure,” according to Andrew Darby of The Sydney Morning Herald.

AMSA added that there was no immediate danger to the personnel on the Chinese ship, which will attempt to make its way through the ice and into open waters during the early morning hours on Saturday, Rod McGuirk of the Associated Press (AP) explained.

In the meantime, the passengers of the ill-fated MV Akademik Shokalskiy -- which had been stranded in Antarctic waters since Christmas Eve -- now must play the waiting game one more time.

MAIN STORY: January 2, 2014 @ 9:20 a.m.

The 52 passengers of a research vessel stranded in Antarctic ice for more than a week have been rescued by helicopter and transported to a nearby Australian icebreaker, and other media outlets are reporting.

“It's 100% we're off! A huge thanks to all,” tweeted University of New South Wales climate change professor Chris Turney, one of the scientists and tourists who had been trapped on the MV Akademik Shokalskiy since Christmas Eve, according to CNN’s Jethro Mullen.

Rescue efforts were spearheaded by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority's Rescue Coordination Centre. The 22 crew members will remain on the Russian-flagged research ship until the ship can be freed from the ice and piloted home. The vessel is in no danger of sinking and is said to be stocked with several weeks’ worth of supplies.

The first group was transported to “an ice floe next to the Australian icebreaker the Aurora Australis, and then taken by a small boat to the Australian ship,” where the first group arrived at roughly 6:15pm Australian time, explained to Associated Press (AP) reporter Rod McGuirk.

The MV Akademik Shokalskiy had been trapped in thicker-than-expected ice approximately 100 nautical miles east of the French base Dumont d'Urville since December 24, according to AFP. Several icebreakers tried and failed to reach the stranded vessel, and a helicopter rescue originally planned for Tuesday had to be delayed due to heavy rains, wind and poor sea ice conditions.

AMSA representative John Young told CNN's Mullen that it will take several weeks before the rescued researchers and passengers will see dry land, however. They are headed for the Australian port of Hobart, but the vessel will need to complete a resupply mission at a base in Antarctica before it can leave the region. Young told reporters that the 52 men and women will likely reach Hobart by mid-January.

In a December 31 blog entry, Turney called the experience of being stranded in the Antarctic ice a “sobering” one. He also called the international rescue efforts “extraordinary” and said that he and his colleagues were “incredibly grateful for all the hard work and effort everyone has provided to assist the Australasian Antarctic Expedition 2013-14 in escaping.”

“The conditions we are experiencing over the Shokalskiy are a result of the frequent and deep low pressure systems that encircle the continent. In combination with a funneling effect from the ice sheet, these lows are producing strong and pervasive winds from the southeast,” he explained.

“The wind is not unusual but what is unexpected is the major reconfiguration of thick multi-year sea ice to the east of the Mertz Glacier. The thick chaotic surface we see around the Shokalskiy is consistent with the idea that this ice is several years old and is considerably more difficult to break through by icebreaker than single year ice,” the professor added.

Turney concluded by noting that morale was “good” and everyone was “working hard to support one another.”