- POSTED: 07 Jan 2014 13:30
- UPDATED: 07 Jan 2014 17:29
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A Chinese ship that helped rescue passengers from a Russian vessel stranded in Antarctica only to get stuck in the ice itself may soon have a chance of breaking free, state media reported on Tuesday.
BEIJING: A Chinese ship that helped rescue passengers from a Russian vessel stranded in Antarctica only to get stuck in the ice itself may soon have a chance of breaking free, state media reported on Tuesday.
A westerly wind expected to pick up before Wednesday could give the Xue Long, or Snow Dragon, its best chance of escaping the thick ice in which it has been trapped since last Friday, the China Daily newspaper reported.
"The window for the vessel to sail out is quite small, which means Xue Long needs to be ready at any moment before Wednesday," Zhang Lin, a Beijing-based meteorologist involved in the rescue effort, told the newspaper.
The westerly wind is expected to help push away some of the heavy ice surrounding the ship, according to the official Xinhua news agency, which noted that the biggest floes are three times thicker than its ice-breaking capacity.
But the Xue Long will likely only have 48 hours to make its escape, according to Xinhua, as Thursday is expected to bring a southeasterly wind that could sweep more ice towards it.
The Xue Long's helicopter last Thursday ferried 52 passengers on the stranded Russian ship Akademik Shokalskiy, which had been trapped for 10 days, to the safety of an Australian vessel.
The passengers, who spent Christmas and New Year stranded aboard the ship in Antarctica's Commonwealth Bay, were due to arrive at Australia's Casey research base Tuesday night, with a return to Australia expected in two weeks.
"Its performance, especially the success in rescuing all the passengers, has been given the thumbs up by global public opinion," the Global Times said in an editorial on the Xue Long's rescue of the Shokalskiy passengers. "China should be proud of it."
"Xue Long's mission is an epitome of China's attitude toward its international obligations," it added.
But the Chinese ship afterwards became surrounded by ice itself, and an effort to break free early Saturday was unsuccessful.
It has 101 people on board, while 22 crew remain on the trapped Shokalskiy.
The ice surrounding the Xue Long is up to four metres thick, and the nearest open waters are 21 kilometres away, Xinhua reported.
But it added that the Chinese ship - which includes a gym, movie theatre and ping-pong tables among its facilities - has enough food to last until April and enough fresh water for the next month.
In recent days, it has prepared for a potential breakout by warming up its engine and creating a channel about one kilometre long and described as an "ice-breaking runway".
The Polar Star, a US Coast Guard icebreaker, has been dispatched to come to the aid of the two trapped ships and is expected to arrive on Sunday.
The vessel, which is cutting short a stop in Australia, is capable of breaking six feet of ice continuously and a maximum of 21 feet by backing up and ramming it, according to the US Coast Guard.