US ice-breaker Polar Star is to help the Chinese and Russian ships that are stuck in thick ice in Antarctica following a rescue mission.
The Polar Star has been asked to cut a path through the ice in order to free the Xue Long and the Akademik Shokalskiy, the US Coast Guard said.
The Xue Long became ice-bound after helping to rescue 52 passengers stranded on Russian research vessel Akademik Shokalskiy on Thursday.
The Akademik Shokalskiy has been trapped since December 24.
The Polar Star is responding to requests for assistance from the Australian authorities as well as from the Russian and Chinese governments, the US Coast Guard said in a statement.
“Our highest priority is safety of life at sea, which is why we are assisting in breaking a navigational path for both of these vessels,” said Vice Adm Paul Zukunft, commander of Coast Guard Pacific Area.
The Polar Star, which is specifically designed for open-water icebreaking, was due to leave Sydney, Australia, on Sunday and is expected to arrive at the stranded ships in a week’s time, according to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA).
It comes after the Xue Long confirmed it was trapped following a rescue mission to remove passengers on board the Akademik Shokalskiy.
On Thursday, a helicopter from the Chinese ship transferred 52 people from the Akademik Shokalskiy to the Australian vessel, the Aurora Australis.
Most of the Russian crew-members stayed on board the Akademik Shokalskiy.
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