A Chinese icebreaker that was en route to rescue a Russian Antarctic ship trapped in ice was forced to turn back on Saturday after being unable to break its way through the heavy sea of ice.
The Snow Dragon icebreaker came within a mere 7 miles of the Russian ship MV Akademik Shokalskiy, which got stuck in the ice on Christmas Eve. However, the Snow Dragon had to abort the rescue after the ice became too thick, said expedition spokesman Alvin Stone.
The Akademik Shokalskiy, which was on a research expedition to Antarctica, got stuck after blizzard winds pushed the sea ice up and around the ship, freezing it right in place. Fortunately, the Russian expedition ship wasn’t in danger of sinking, and there are weeks’ worth of supplies for the 74 scientists, tourists and crew on board.
Three icebreakers, including the Snow Dragon, have been trying to reach the ship since Wednesday. Another ship, France’s L’Astrolabe, made it all the way to the edge of the sea ice surrounding the ship on Saturday, but called off its mission after they also failed to break through, said Lisa Martin. Martin is the spokeswoman for the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, which is coordinating the rescue.
The third icebreaker, Australia’s Aurora Australis, is still on their rescue mission and is believed to have the best chance of cutting through the ice. They are expected to arrive on Sunday, Martin said. The Snow Dragon will remain in the area in case its help is needed.
“I think we’re probably looking at another 24 hours of twiddling our fingers and waiting for something to happen,” said Stone, the expedition spokesman.
The scientific team on board the research ship — which left New Zealand on November 28 — had been recreating a 100-year old expedition by Australian explorer Douglas Mawson. The team plans to continue their expedition after they are freed, expedition leader Chris Turney said.
The weather has improved, as the passengers and crew initially had to contend with blizzard conditions, including winds up to 40 miles per hour, Turney said.
Unbelievably, despite the interruption to the expedition, the scientists have gone on with their research while stuck, counting birds in the area and drilling through the ice surrounding the ship to photograph sea life. Those on board also managed to celebrate the holiday with a traditional Christmas feast and a “Secret Santa” gift exchange, which helped keep everyone’s spirits high, Turney said.
You can follow the expedition leader on Twitter at user handle, @ProfChrisTurney.