|Cracks appear in the Antarctic ice that trapped the Chinese icebreaker Xuelong, or Snow Dragon, yesterday evening. The vessel had been stuck in the ice since it rescued passengers from Russian research ship Akademik Shokalskiy, which had been trapped since Christmas Eve, last Thursday. The 52 researchers, journalists and tourists, who spent Christmas and New Year on the Russian vessel in Antarctica’s Commonwealth Bay, were due to arrive at Australia’s Casey research base last night, with a return to Australia expected in two weeks.|
Trapped Chinese research vessel and icebreaker Xuelong made a successful escape through heavy sea ice at 6:30pm (Beijing time) yesterday.
It had been stuck in ice since it rescued passengers from a trapped Russian vessel.
The vessel is now in open waters in the Southern Ocean where only a few floes drift on the sea surface, at approximately 66.45 degrees south and 144.50 degrees east. The ship, sailing at a speed of 9 knots, is continuing its scientific expedition.
Xuelong, or Snow Dragon, had been making constant efforts to break through the ice throughout the day.
The vessel had a difficult time trying to make a turn to starboard around 5am, because of thick ice and snow that was covering the floes.
It made little progress until around 5:50pm when it executed a 100-degree turn and the ice began to give way.
A huge ice floe ahead of it suddenly split and a channel of open water appeared. The vessel quickly steered through the channel to break free from the Antarctic’s icy grip.
Last Thursday, the Snow Dragon’s helicopter ferried 52 passengers from stranded Russian ship Akademik Shokalskiy, which had been trapped in the ice since Christmas Eve, to the safety of an Australian vessel.
But the Chinese vessel then became trapped in the ice itself, and an effort to break free early on Saturday was unsuccessful.
The 52 passengers, who had spent Christmas and New Year trapped in Antarctica’s Commonwealth Bay, were due to arrive at Australia’s Casey research base last night, with a return to Australia expected in two weeks.
A crew of 22 remains on the Shokalskiy, which yesterday was finally, slowly, on the move.
Ice surrounding the Snow Dragon was up to 4 meters thick, with the nearest open water 21 kilometers away, Xinhua news agency reported.
But it said the ship — which has a gym, cinema and ping-pong tables among its facilities — had enough food to last until April and enough fresh water for a month.
It had been preparing for a breakout by warming up its engines and creating a channel about a kilometer long described as an “ice-breaking runway.”
The Russian vessel is managing to navigate slowly through the ice, after cracks had appeared in the ice, its captain, Igor Kiselyov, told the ITAR-TASS news agency.
“Finally the wind changed to the west and as a result a crack appeared in the ice. We went into it and we are now slowly moving north,” he said.
“We are going at a slow speed and by changing course, we have moved forward already more than 20 miles.”
He said sailing conditions were “hard,” with thick fog and visibility of no more than 500 meters.
Nevertheless, the going was better than it had been before, he said.
The Polar Star, a US Coast Guard icebreaker dispatched to the aid of both ships, is expected to arrive in the area on Sunday.
The vessel, which is cutting short a stop in Australia, is capable of continuously breaking ice up to 1.8 meters deep and a maximum of 6.4 meters of ice by backing up and ramming it, according to the US Coast Guard.