The U.S. Coast Guard is sending Seattle-based cutter Polar Star to help two ships that are trapped in Antarctic ice.
One of them is the Russian research ship from which 52 passengers were rescued by helicopter this week. The other is the Chinese ship that provided the helicopter.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority has been coordinating rescue operations since the Akademik Shokalskiy got stuck in ice on Dec. 24. The Polar Star will cut short its planned stop in Sydney to support the AMSA’s request for assistance.
“Our highest priority is safety of life at sea, which is why we are assisting in breaking a navigational path for both of these vessels," said Vice Adm. Paul F. Zukunft, Coast Guard Pacific Area Commander. "We are pleased to learn the passengers of the Akademik Shokalskiy have been transported safely off the vessel. We are always ready and duty bound to render assistance in one of the most remote and harsh environments on the face of the globe.”
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority's Rescue Coordination Centre, which oversaw the rescue, said the Polar Star will leave Sydney on Sunday after taking on supplies. It would take about seven days for the Polar Star to reach Commonwealth Bay, depending on weather, AMSA said in a statement.
The Polar Star, the U.S. Coast Guard’s only active heavy polar ice breaker, left its homeport in early December on one of its primary missions, Operation Deep Freeze. The ship’s mission is to break a channel through the sea ice of McMurdo Sound to resupply and refuel the U.S. Antarctic Program’s McMurdo Station on Ross Island.
The 399-foot Polar Star is able to continuously break six feet of ice at three knots, and able to break 21 feet of ice backing and ramming.
Rescued passengers continue journey home
The Australian icebreaker carrying 52 passengers who were retrieved from an icebound ship in the Antarctic resumed its journey home after it was halted for a second potential rescue operation.
The icebreaker Aurora Australis had been traveling through pack ice toward open water after a Chinese helicopter on Thursday plucked the passengers from their stranded Russian research ship.
But Australian Maritime Safety Authority told the Aurora on Friday afternoon to stay in the area because the Chinese icebreaker that had provided the helicopter might not be able to get through the ice and may need help.
AMSA said the Aurora had been allowed on Saturday to continue its journey to Australia despite the Chinese ship remaining stuck in ice.