Chinese ice-breaker Xue Long that helped rescue passengers stranded on the Akademik Shokalskiy vessel in Antarctica is now stuck itself.
An Australian ice-breaker carrying the rescued passengers is no longer on standby and is returning to shore.
On Thursday, a helicopter from the Xue Long transferred 52 passengers from the Akademik Shokalskiy to the Aurora Australis.
Russian scientific mission Akademik Shokalskiy has been trapped by thick floes of ice since 24 December.
“Xue Long’s attempt to manoeuvre through the ice… was unsuccessful. Xue Long has confirmed to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) [that] it is beset by ice,” AMSA said in a statement on Saturday.
“The master of Xue Long has confirmed to AMSA that the ship is safe, it is not in distress and does not require assistance at this time,” AMSA said, adding that there was no immediate danger to the ice-breaker’s crew.
Chinese ice-breaker Xue Long that helped rescue passengers stranded on the Akademik Shokalskiy vessel in Antarctica is now stuck itself
It is the latest twist in what has become a complicated rescue operation in the Antarctic.
The Australian Aurora Australis had been asked to remain in open water nearby in case the Xue Long needed help – but AMSA said this was no longer needed and it had been released from its search and rescue mission.
The authority added that the Australian vessel was travelling to the Casey research base on the Windmill Islands, just outside the Antarctic Circle, to complete a re-supply task before continuing to Hobart – the capital of the Australian state of Tasmania.
Andrew Peacock, an Australian doctor and photographer who was rescued from the Russian ship, spoke of his fellow passengers’ frustration aboard the Aurora over the latest delay in their journey home, according to the Associated Press.
“So our time down south is not over yet and we are going to be delayed in our return to friends and family by some time yet, which is frustrating,” Andrew Peacock said before the Aurora was given permission to continue.
The Akademik Shokalskiy became trapped by thick floes of ice driven by strong winds, about 1,500 nautical miles south of Hobart.
The Akademik Shokalskiy was being used by the Australasian Antarctic Expedition (AAE) 2013 to follow the route explorer Douglas Mawson travelled a century ago.
A rescue mission for Akademik Shokalskiy scientific ship stuck in ice in Antarctica is under threat as reports have emerged that one of the assisting vessels may itself be stuck.
Fifty-two passengers and four crew members were due to be evacuated by helicopter from China’s Xue Long ship as soon as conditions allowed.
However, the Xue Long has barely moved in a day and may be stuck in the ice.
The research vessel Akademik Shokalskiy has been trapped for nearly a week with 74 scientists, tourists and crew.
The ship is stocked with food and is in no danger, the team on board says.
The planned air evacuation required that the two icebreakers in the immediate area – the Xue Long and the Australian Aurora Australis – be positioned close to each other in open water, clear of the pack ice.
Akademik Shokalskiy rescue is under threat as one of the assisting vessels may itself be stuck
However, the captain of the Xue Long has told the Shokalskiy that he is keeping his vessel in a “holding position”.
The Aurora Australis, is now understood to be planning to carve through the dense thick pack to assist the Xue Long.
The initial plan had been for a helicopter from the Xue Long to carry people in groups of 15 up from the pack ice next to the Shokalskiy.
The airlifted passengers would then be transferred by a small boat, deployed from the Australian icebreaker, onto the Aurora Australis.
The expedition members would then have travelled to Australia’s Antarctic base at Casey some four days’ voyage away.
However, if the Chinese vessel is also stuck and the Australian vessel cannot help it reach clear water, there will be no airlift.
Under the initial plan, the remaining crew members would have stayed on board until another, more powerful US icebreaker arrived in up to 10 days’ time.
However, it may now be that all of those on board may have to wait for the US icebreaker, the Polar Star.
Earlier attempts by Chinese and French icebreakers to reach the ship were also foiled by the thick ice.
Akademik Shokalskiy was trapped on Christmas Eve by thick sheets of ice, driven by strong winds, about 1,500 nautical miles south of Hobart – the capital of the Australian state of Tasmania.