Skip to main content

Only at the South Pole: Icebreaker also stuck -- in ice -- heading for stranded ship

By Michael Martinez. Holly Yan and Kevin Wang, CNN
December 28, 2013 -- Updated 0239 GMT (1039 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Rescue efforts are at a frozen standstill just like stranded ship
  • Chinese icebreaker expected to arrive first but has been stopped by ice and storm
  • The stranded research vessel is carrying tourists and scientists studying climate change
  • The 74 people aboard had a "great Christmas" while at a frozen standstill, leader says

(CNN) -- South Pole weather has stymied a rescue by a Chinese icebreaker trying to reach an expedition vessel trapped for the past four days in frozen seas, a ship officer told CNN Friday.

The Chinese icebreaker Xue Long, or Snow Dragon, was just six nautical miles away from the rescue, but now it's stuck in an Antarctica ice floe, too.

The Chinese crew is hoping a French icebreaker 14 nautical miles away will arrive and offer relief, said Zhu Li, chief officer of the Chinese ship.

But it's likely the French vessel Astrolabe will also be slowed by the polar cap's extreme frigidity, Zhu said.

Those two icebreakers -- plus a third, from Australia -- were battling the planet's coldest environment in trying to reach the stranded Russian ship MV Akademik Shokalskiy, whose 74 researchers, crew and tourists remained in good condition despite being at a frozen standstill since Monday.

Antarctic crew amazed by viral fame

It all shows that some lands -- especially the ends of the Earth -- will never be tamed.

Morale high on ship stuck off Antarctica
Ships headed to ice-trapped vessel

The Snow Dragon is in near-constant communication with the Russian exploration vessel and has ample supplies of water, food and medicine -- even a helicopter -- if the ice-bound Shokalskiy needed them, Zhu said.

The Russian expedition ship is carrying scientists and passengers led by an Australian climate change professor, but they all may have to wait two more days for one or all three icebreakers to free it, said Capt. Wang Jiangzhong of the Snow Dragon.

"Right now we are waiting for winds to blow ice away so we can move closer," Wang told CNN. "The current ice condition is exceeding our capabilities to break through further."

The captain also acknowledged his ship may need help from the other icebreakers headed to the area if conditions deteriorate.

"We are in continual communication with the (stranded) ship," he said in a satellite phone call with CNN. "I think it's at least a form of emotional relief for them to know we are nearby to help. We know that they (passengers) are all doing well on that ship."

The Aurora Australis out of Australia is two days from the Russian ship, its captain, Murray Doyle, told CNN on Friday.

China's State Oceanic Administration said the Xue Long sailed through an intense cyclone to reach the Akademik Shokalskiy sooner.

Meanwhile, spirits were high Friday aboard the Akademik Shokalskiy.

"The vessel is fine, it's safe and everyone on board is very well," expedition leader Chris Turney, a professor of climate change at University of New South Wales in Australia told CNN. "Morale is really high."

It got stuck in the ice on Monday night -- 15 days after setting out on the second leg of its research trip.

According to Turney, the ship was surrounded by ice up to nearly 10 feet (3 meters) thick some 100 nautical miles east of the French base Dumont D'Urville, about 1,500 nautical miles south of Hobart, Tasmania.

On Christmas morning, the ship sent a satellite distress signal after conditions failed to clear.

The crew had a "great Christmas" despite their situation, Turney told CNN earlier. He said crew members have used the delay to get more work done.

"We've just kept the team busy," he said.

The expedition is trying to update scientific measurements taken by an Australian expedition led by Douglas Mawson that set out in 1911.

The expedition to gauge the effects of climate change on the region began November 27. The second, and current leg of the trip, started December 8 and was scheduled to conclude with a return to New Zealand on January 4.

Turney said the ship should still be back in New Zealand on time.

CNN's CY Xu, April Ma and Tom Cohen contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 0023 GMT (0823 HKT)
Wilson Raj Perumal tells CNN how he rigged World Cup games: "I was giving orders to the coach."
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 0823 GMT (1623 HKT)
He should be toddling around a playground. Instead, his tiny hands grip an AK-47.
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1652 GMT (0052 HKT)
CNN's Will Ripley travels to North Korea, visiting an international wrestling festival and a slide-filled water park.
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 0920 GMT (1720 HKT)
Our whole solar system appears to be inside a searing gas bubble, scientists say.
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1230 GMT (2030 HKT)
In a raid on a luxury apartment complex, agents caught up with a French-Algerian man they accuse of bringing back terror to Europe.
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 0002 GMT (0802 HKT)
One journalist murdered, another still being held by ISIS -- a ransom negotiator talks to CNN about trying to get a hostage home alive.
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1228 GMT (2028 HKT)
Was a police officer justified in shooting and killing Michael Brown?
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1654 GMT (0054 HKT)
Don't like the country you live in? Meet the people who created their own "micronations."
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1835 GMT (0235 HKT)
South Africa Music Legends stamps
Artist Hendrik Gericke puts a spotlight on iconic performers from South Africa in these incredible monochrome illustrations.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 0946 GMT (1746 HKT)
We asked you what you would like to know about Ebola. Experts answer some of your most common questions and concerns.
CNN joins the fight to end modern-day slavery by shining a spotlight on its horrors and highlighting success stories.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT