Trapped Chinese icebreaker likely free Monday

Updated: 2014-01-04 15:48

By Wang Qian in Beijing (

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An emergency team has been formed to plan the rescue of passengers and crewmembers aboard the trapped Chinese icebreaker Xuelong, which is expected to break free of the ice on Monday, China Central Television reported on Saturday.

The vessel got stuck after participating in the Thursday rescue of a Russian icebreaker ensnared in an ice floe.

The team of experts from such relevant departments as the Chinese Arctic and Antarctic Administration, the Polar Research Institute of China and the National Marine Environmental Forecasting Center will maintain 24-hour contact with the vessel, State Oceanic Administration director Liu Cigui told CCTV.

Liu said on Monday that, when the favorable weather conditions appear as forecasted, Xuelong will take the opportunity to chop through the heavy floes.

Xuelong must sail back and forth for 1 kilometer to prevent the vessel from being frozen in the ice, the ship’s captain Wang Jianzhong told CCTV.

Wang said tidal conditions are extremely complex in this area, which is experiencing large tides, and the positions of the iceberg and floes are rapidly changing.

A massive, flat iceberg is floating to the vessel’s left, sometimes drifting as close as 2.3 kilometers, Wang said.

Xuelong will try to maneuver through the ice only after the giant iceberg drifts away, Wang said.

“Those aboard are safe and have enough food,” Qu Tanzhou, director of the Chinese Arctic and Antarctic Administration under the State Oceanic Administration, told China Daily in a telephone interview on Saturday.

“Weather forecasts and ice monitoring show favorable weather conditions may appear on Monday, which may bring winds to blow the ice floe away, providing a good opportunity for Xuelong to sail out," Qu said.

Jia Shuliang, captain of the helicopter Xueying 12, or Snow Eagle 12, aboard the vessel, said the helicopter is ready to fly to survey the ice floe surrounding Xuelong, CCTV reported on Saturday.

The Chinese icebreaker Xuelong, or Snow Dragon, got stuck in the ice after rescuing 52 passengers from the Russian ship Akademik Shokalskiy in Antarctica on Thursday. Xuelong has 101 scientists and 42 crewmembers on board.

Qu said the ice in which the icebreaker is stuck is more than 3 meters thick in some places. That is too high for the ship to smash through.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority also confirmed on Saturday that Xuelong failed to chop through the ice on Saturday morning, and personnel on board face no immediate danger.

Qu said that after rescuing those aboard the Shokalskiy, strong cyclones and water flows pushed ice floes into an ice gorge, stranding Xuelong.

The Australian vessel Aurora Australis was placed on standby in open waters nearby on Friday evening as a precaution.

The heads of both the Russian vessel and Xuelong agreed on Saturday morning that further assistance from Aurora Australis is no longer needed, and the Chinese and Russian icebreakers can support each other.

The previous rescue operation of those aboard the Akademik Shokalskiy, which was stranded in Antarctica for 10 days, was completed on Friday morning.

Xuelong left Shanghai in early November on China’s 30th Antarctic expedition, which is expected to last 155 days. The mission involves scientific research, construction of the country’s new research base and the site inspection of another base.

“The stranding will force the expedition to be rescheduled,” Qu says.

“We will discuss that after the ship breaks free.”

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