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.
The Xue Long became ice-bound after helping to rescue 52 passengers stranded on Russian research vessel Akademik Shokalskiy
“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.
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.