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Thick Ice Slows Icebreaker Rescue

December 27, 2013

By Paul Homewood




Both the Chinese icebreaker, Xue Long, along with the French one, Astrolabe, has arrived on the scene and begun to clear a path to the stranded Akademik Shokalskiy.

According to the Guardian:


The vessel, the Xue Long, and a French icebreaker, the Astrolabe, reached the edge of the ice pack, around 13 nautical miles from the Russian-operated MV Akademik Shokalskiy, just before 7pm New Zealand time (6am GMT) on Friday.

The Xue Long started cutting through the ice soon after, and has made steady, but slow, progress since and is now within sight of the stricken vessel. The ice it has encountered at the edge has been much thicker than expected – 3-4 metres thick in some places. It is travelling at between 0.1 to 3 knots depending on the density of the ice and should reach the Shokalskiy some time in the next 12 hours. The Astrolabe has not yet entered the ice field.

"We know that the ice conditions around us are extremely difficult and that the ice is under a lot of pressure," said Greg Mortimer, co-leader of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition (AAE), aboard the Shokalskiy. "The ships that are coming to assist us will probably not have the ability to cut a path into us individually, so they have to work in tandem."

When the icebreaker gets close to the Shokalskiy, it will cut a ring in the ice around the Russian ship so that the latter can manoeuvre itself into the a newly opened channel behind the Xue Long. "It’s quite an elaborate operation and one that takes some time," Mortimer said.

The Shokalskiy will then follow close behind the Chinese vessel as it carves another channel through the ice and heads back to the open waters of the Southern Ocean.

Mortimer said the ice conditions around the Shokalskiy were extremely difficult. When the ship became trapped in ice earlier this week, it was only 2 miles from the open water. Since then the ice sheet has grown and the ship is now more than 13 miles from the sea.


The Xue Long, which translates as Snow Dragon, was already on its way to help construct the new Chinese Antarctic base near the Ross Sea when it was asked to detour and assist the Shokalskiy. The Astrolabe has been sent from Dumont D’Urville, the nearest Antarctic base to Cape de la Motte. Also on its way to the Shokalskiy, but still a few days’ sailing time away, is the Australian icebreaker, Aurora Australis.

"The Chinese are on a really tight timeframe because they’re building their new base and there is a short Antarctic summer season," Fogwill said. "Still, there’s been no hesitation to come and help us – we’re very grateful and it’s a big gesture."



Latest from CNN:


A Chinese icebreaker heading to free a polar expedition vessel trapped in an Antarctic ice floe got stopped by the ice and weather, its captain told CNN.

The Chinese government ship Xue Long, or Snow Dragon, was 6 nautical miles away from the stranded Russian ship MV Akademik Shokalskiy, Capt. Wang Jiangzhong said.

Due to bad weather and ice conditions, the Xue Long may take another two days to get to the trapped research vessel with 74 passengers and crew members on board, Wang said.

"Right now we are waiting for winds to blow ice away so we can move closer," he said. "The current ice condition is exceeding our capabilities to break through further."

The captain acknowledged his ship may need help from two other icebreakers headed to the area if conditions deteriorate. At the same time, Wang noted the Xue Long has a helicopter on board to provide any emergency assistance to the trapped Russian vessel.

"We are in continual communication with the (stranded) ship," he said in a satellite phone call with CNN. "I think it’s at least a form of emotional relief for them to know we are nearby to help. We know that they (passengers) are all doing well on that ship."

The Chinese icebreaker as well as the French vessel Astrolabe and an Australian ship, the Aurora Australis, were heading toward the trapped research ship.

  1. Green Sand permalink
    December 27, 2013 9:46 pm

    Well the XUE LONG has extricated itself from the sea ice and has stopped in clear water.

    Present conditions:-
    Wind: 25 knots
    Bearing: SE (142o)
    Temperature: -3C

    Click on “Show on live map” to view the vessel’s track. It would appear there was a little more ice than expected!

  2. gregole permalink
    December 28, 2013 1:21 am

    So it was a “scientific” expedition? Well, some interesting observations of the higher than average Antarctic ice had to have been logged. Wonder if any of this will make in onto and BBC programs on Man-Made-Global Warming? You know, disappearing ice and all…

  3. December 28, 2013 3:52 am

    Good luck with getting out of there, I see a peninsular to their west and prevailing westerlies would be pushing ice into them all the time, stopped by the land to their west. Not a good place to be.

  4. Ian George permalink
    December 28, 2013 7:19 am

    One passenger claimed that there was not as much ice in Commonwealth Bay in Mawson’s time. How did that get pass the censors?
    Here’s what it looked like back then.


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