Skip to main content

U.S. vessel heads to break ice around Russian, Chinese ships off Antarctica

By Greg Botelho, CNN
January 5, 2014 -- Updated 1659 GMT (0059 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: The U.S. ship should take a week to reach Commonwealth Bay, Australia says
  • U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star is heading toward Antarctica
  • Its aim is to help free Russian and Chinese ships stuck in ice there
  • Governments of Australia, China and Russia asked for the help

(CNN) -- At the request of the Australian, Russian and Chinese governments, the U.S. Coast Guard is stepping up to help break up ice off Antarctica that has ensnared a pair of ships.

The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star had been heading to that area anyway, having left its home port of Seattle early last month to eventually break through sea ice and refuel the U.S. Antarctic Program's McMurdo Station on Ross Island.

Now the icebreaker is retooling to help the Russian ship Akademik Shokalskiy and China's Xue Long due to "sufficient concern that the vessels may not be able to free themselves from the ice," the Coast Guard said Saturday in a statement.

The Polar Star, currently in Sydney, will take on supplies and head out Sunday on what should be a seven-day voyage to the ships in Commonwealth Bay, according to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.

"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," said Vice Adm. Paul F. Zukunft, the U.S. Coast Guard's Pacific commander.

Chinese ship in Antarctica rescue stuck in ice

The Akademik Shokalskiy has been stranded since December 24, 2013.
The Akademik Shokalskiy has been stranded since December 24, 2013.

The Australian agency formally requested the Americans help on Friday. The Coast Guard noted that the governments of Russia and China also asked for U.S. assistance.

Earlier this week, a helicopter ferried 52 passengers from the MV Akadmik Shokalskiy to the Australian icebreaker Aurora Australis.

The Akadmik Shokalskiy had been trapped in unusually deep ice since Christmas Eve with scientists, journalists, tourists and crew members on board.

Twenty-two Russian crew members are still on the Akademik Shokalskiy, waiting for either the ice to shift or for outside help.

Xue Long is a Chinese icebreaker that sent out the helicopter Thursday that airlifted several dozen passengers from the Akademik Shokalskiy to safety.

But after that happened, the Chinese vessel itself got stuck in the ice, according to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.

The Xue Long's captain told AMSA that his ship is safe, has plenty of food and supplies and did not need immediate assistance.

The U.S. Coast Guard's "only active heavy polar icebreaker," the 399-foot long Polar Star recently completed a three-year, $90 million overhaul.

Capable of traveling at speeds of 18 knots (21 mph), the ship can continuously break through 6 feet of ice while traveling 3 knots. With its reinforced hull and special bow, the Polar Star can bust through as much as 21 feet of ice at a time.

After its new mission, the U.S. Coast Guard vessel is set to continue to its original mission in McMurdo Sound.

All 52 passengers rescued from ship trapped in Antarctic ice

CNN's Jethro Mullen and Susanna Capelouto contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1550 GMT (2350 HKT)
Experts believe that ISIS may be using a Spanish enclave to bring jihad to Europe.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1300 GMT (2100 HKT)
With an efficient subway, inexpensive taxis and a good public bus system, Hong Kong is normally an easy city to navigate ...
September 28, 2014 -- Updated 2332 GMT (0732 HKT)
CNN's Ivan Watson was in the middle of a pro-democracy protest in Hong Kong when things got out of hand.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
The world's animal population has halved in 40 years as humans put unsustainable demands on Earth, a new report warns.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1249 GMT (2049 HKT)
Every day, refugees and migrants risk their lives as they seek a new life. Now, a new report puts a figure to the number of victims.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1442 GMT (2242 HKT)
Mainstream commentators must promote positive role models to Muslims feeling victimized, writes Ghaffar Hussain.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 0613 GMT (1413 HKT)
Two men familiar with inside knowledge of ISIS speak with CNN's Arwa Damon.
Explore CNN's interactive that explains ISIS' roots, what it controls, and where its support comes from.
September 25, 2014 -- Updated 2010 GMT (0410 HKT)
In his first-ever interview as the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani defended his country against allegations of funding terrorism.
September 27, 2014 -- Updated 1503 GMT (2303 HKT)
The North Korean leader hasn't been seen for weeks, leading to speculation that he is in poor health.
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 0154 GMT (0954 HKT)
Haider al-Abadi hopes airstrikes don't lead to "of another terrorist element" instead of ISIS.
September 25, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
The United States couldn't do it on its first try. Neither could the Soviets.
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 1529 GMT (2329 HKT)
CNN's Nima Elbagir reflects on a harrowing trip to Liberia where she covered the deadliest Ebola outbreak in history.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1423 GMT (2223 HKT)
Contrary to public opinion, rats can actually save lives -- Apopo's rats have actually saved thousands.
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT