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China's icebreaker heads to open water

Publication Date : 08-01-2014


The stranded Chinese icebreaker, Xuelong, or Snow Dragon, broke through the Antarctic's heavy floes at about 6 pm on Tuesday and was headed for open water, according to Xinhua News Agency.

After being stranded in heavy ice for five days, the ship had broken free by Tuesday evening and was making its way through lighter ice, China Central Television reported on Tuesday.

The vessel was carrying scientists for China's 30th Antarctic expedition before going to the aid of the trapped Russian ship Akademik Shokalskiy. It will now resume scheduled activities.

The Russian ship was also trying to free itself on Tuesday, with a favourable westerly wind loosening the surrounding ice, according to CCTV.

A helicopter from Xuelong ferried 52 passengers aboard the Akademik Shokalskiy to an Australian vessel on Thursday. The Russian ship had been stuck in the ice for 10 days.

However, Xuelong became trapped during the rescue effort, with the ice surrounding the vessel 3 to 4 metres thick, far beyond the ship's ice-breaking capability.

Qu Tanzhou, director of the Chinese Arctic and Antarctic Administration under the State Oceanic Administration, said on Tuesday that Xuelong's attempts at breakout started on Tuesday morning.

"A westerly wind was blowing on Tuesday, as we expected, which makes the floes and ice surrounding Xuelong more loose, creating favourable conditions for sailing on Wednesday," Qu said.

To prepare for the breakout on Tuesday, the vessel had been maintaining a path through the ice measuring 80 metres wide and 1 kilometre long, he added.

Warming up its engine since Monday, Wu Jianjie, the vessel's chief engineer, told Xinhua that all machines on the ship were operating well.

On Tuesday morning, Xuelong broke ice for about 100 metres at a speed of 6 km per hour, but later became trapped in the broken floes, according to Xinhua.

The efforts bore fruit on Tuesday afternoon with the ship sailing through the area of heavy ice.

While the ship was successful in freeing itself, the recently-established emergency team is keeping a close eye on the movements of surrounding floes and icebergs.

All 101 crew members on board are faring well, with entertainment facilities such as ping-pong tables, a gym and a library accessible.

There is enough food on board to last until April, sufficient water for a month and oil for four months, Qu said.

Wei Wenliang, former director of the Chinese Arctic and Antarctic Administration, who has been to the South Pole 12 times, said the Antarctic ice will remain fluid until February, when the summer season ends. This will allow Xuelong time to continue on to the next stages of its journey, he said.

Since November 7, the vessel has been conducting China's 30th Antarctic expedition, which is expected to last 155 days. The expedition's tasks include scientific research, the construction of the country's new research base and a site inspection for another one.

"The stranding has influenced the original schedule," Qu said, adding that no assessment has been made yet of whether the remaining tasks can be completed.

The Polar Star, a US Coast Guard icebreaker, which can break ice up to 6.4 metres thick, has been dispatched to assist the Russian and Chinese ships and is expected to arrive on Sunday. - With news reports



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