The US Coast Guard has sent its heavy polar ice breaker
vessel to assist two ships trapped in thick Antarctic ice.
Marooned Russian ship Akademik Shokalskiy, which has been
trapped about 3000km southwest of Bluff since Christmas Day,
and Chinese vessel Xue Long require assistance to break free
from heavy ice.
Fifty-two passengers who were on board the Akademik
Shokalskiy, including six Kiwis, were choppered from the ship
to the Aurora Australis vessel on January 2 after several
failed attempts by ice breakers to get to it.
The 22-strong crew chose to remain on the ship, and were
hoping to wait out the icy conditions.
The Xue Long, which abandoned an earlier attempt to hack its
way to the vessel, was also now wedged in thick ice.
The US Coast Guard said the Australian Safety Maritime
Authority - which coordinated the helicopter rescue from the
Akademik Shokalskiy - as well as the Russian and Chinese
governments had requested assistance with the trapped ships.
Their Polar Star vessel, which was carrying out a port call
in Sydney when assistance was requested, was on its way to
refuel the US Antarctic Programs McMurdo Station on Ross
It had planed to create a channel through the sea ice of
McMurdo Sound for the annual resupply mission.
"The Polar Star will continue on this mission after
conclusion of the vessel assistance mission," the US Coast
The ship, which measures 122m in length, had recently
undergone a $90 million overhaul over a three-year period.
It is able to break ice over 6m thick and can continuously
break ice up to 1.8m while travelling at 3 knots.
The scientific team on board the Akademik Shokalskiy, led by
scientists from the University of New South Wales, had been
recreating Australian explorer Douglas Mawson's 1911 to 1913
voyage to Antarctica when they became stuck.
The six New Zealanders on the voyage - who are now on the
Aurora Australis - are ornithologist Kerry-Jayne Wilson,
University of Auckland doctoral student Colin Tan, historians
John and Barbara Tucker, and two chefs.
- Teuila Fuatai of APNZ