American icebreaker headed for Antarctica to aid trapped ships

AFP-JIJI

The U.S. icebreaker Polar Star was dispatched Sunday to assist an icebound Russian research ship and a Chinese icebreaker that itself became trapped during a rescue bid off eastern Antarctica.

The U.S. Coast Guard ship accepted an Australian request to go to the aid of the marooned Russian ship MV Akademik Shokalskiy, which has been beset by ice since Dec. 24.

It will also aid the Chinese icebreaker Xue Long (Snow Dragon), which was involved in a dramatic helicopter rescue of the Shokalskiy’s 52 passengers on Thursday. The Xue Long has become trapped itself, surrounded by ice of up to 4 meters thick and stuck 21 km from open water.

The Polar Star, which left the U.S. in early December to clear a channel for ships resupplying McMurdo Station research base, left Sydney on Sunday with provisions. It is expected to take seven days to reach Commonwealth Bay, where the two ships are trapped.

The Shokalskiy was stranded with 22 scientists, 26 paying passengers and four journalists on board, as well as 22 crew who remain on the ship.