The Chinese icebreaker Xuelong, which had been blocked behind heavy Antarctic ice for four days after it was sent to rescue a trapped Russian ship, finally made its escape on Tuesday at 18:30 Beijing time, days before requested US icebreaker Polar Star would reach the ice field.
According to Xinhua, Xuelong, or “Ice Dragon”, was making efforts to “veer around” the heavy ice the entire day before it broke free.
No breakout was made until about 17:50 Beijing time (0950 GMT) when Xuelong pulled a 100 degree turn and strongly pushed away the ice. Under the huge blow, a big floe right ahead suddenly split up and a channel of open waters showed itself. Xuelong quickly voyaged through the channel and broke free of the ice.
USA Today reports that the Russian research ship Akademik Shokalskiy has also successfully freed itself from the Antarctic ice fields.
On January 2, the Chinese helicopter Xueying aboard the icebreaker Xuelong was sent to rescue passengers who had been trapped on the Russian ship Akademik Shokalskiy in Antarctic seas since December 24. Not long after the Russian passengers were safely delivered to the Australian icebreaker Aurora Australis, however, China’s Xuelong found itself blocked behind a one-km-long iceberg.
The Coast Guard announced that the US was sending its icebreaker Polar Star to help the Chinese and Russian vessels gripped by ice after receiving requests from Australian authorities and Russian and Chinese governments.
The Polar Star was en route to the area and was expected to arrive at the end of the week.
Xuelong, with 101 scientists and 42 crew members aboard, will now continue its scientific expedition to Antarctica, Xinhua reports.
“We were trapped because we came to save people,” Wu Jiansheng, one of the sailors, told China Oceanic News. “There is pride in our hearts.”