Australian Icebreaker Bids Farewell to Chinese and Russian Ships Beset in Ice

The MV Images copyright  Andrew Peacock/footloosefotography and The Australasian Antarctic Expedition All rights reserved.
The MV Akademik Shokalskiy stuck in Antarctic ice. Images copyright
Andrew Peacock/footloosefotography and The Australasian Antarctic Expedition

A Chinese icebreaker which has spent the last 10 days assisting a Russian expedition ship stuck in ice off Antarctica is now itself stuck in the ice, prolonging a response that has gained international attention through social and traditional media.

The icebreaker Xue Long notified the Australian Maritime Safety Authority Friday afternoon over concerns that heavy ice in the area has prevented the vessel from moving. The Australia icebreaker, Aurora Australis, which has also been scene as part of the MV Akademik Shokalskiy response, has been placed on standby and will remain in open water in the area as a precautionary measure.

Update: An update early Saturday AEDT from AMSA confirmed that the Xue Long is in fact stuck in an ice floe, but that the Chinese vessel is not in distress and no longer requires assistance from the Aurora Australis icebreaker.  The Aurora Australis has been released from tasking and is now heading to Casey Station to resupply before heading back to Hobart, Tasmania.

The 52 passengers from the MV Akademik Shokalskiy were airlifted from the ice floe late Thursday by a helicopter from the Xue Long and transferred to the Aurora Australis.

The AMSA says that the Xue Long has advised Rescue Coordination Centre Australia, which is heading the down under response, that it will attempt to maneuver through the ice when tidal conditions are most suitable during the early hours of January 4, 2014.

Meanwhile the MV Akademik Shokalskiy, with all 22 crew still onboard, remains stuck in the ice will likely have to wait (hope) for changing ice conditions that will allow the ship to be freed.

The AMSA says that there is no immediate danger to personnel on board the Xue Long or the Akademik Shokalskiy, but if history holds true this could be a prolonged response with a very uncertain ending.

The MV Akademik Shokalskiy left New Zealand on Nov. 28 on a private expedition to commemorate the 100th anniversary of an Antarctic journey led by famed Australian explorer Douglas Mawson and became trapped by ice on December 24, 100 nautical miles east of French Antarctic station Dumont D’Urville and about 1,500 nautical miles south of Australia’s southern island state of Tasmania.

Prior to the most recent Xue Long development, the Aurora Australis was expected to reach Australia with the 52 passengers -mostly scientists and tourists- in mid-January following a resupply at Casey Station, Antarctica. AMSA has not released a revised timeline.

While the Shokalskiy predicament at first gained support on social media due to the scientist’s constant updates -Twitter, Skype, YouTube all included- it seems that with each new setback, more and more people are shifting attitudes about the situation and questioning just why the Shokalskiy got stuck in the first place.

The incident has also provided fuel for climate change naysayers who are commenting on the irony that a bunch of researchers studying the impact of global warming became stuck in ice.

You can follow the latest developments on Twitter using the hashtag #spiritofmawson or following AMSA @AMSA_News