Antarctic ice drama over as ships freed

A stranded Russian ship, and the Chinese vessel that came to its aid, have finally broken free of heavy ice in the Antarctic.

The Russian ship Akademik Shokalskiy became stranded in the Antarctic on Christmas Eve, forcing the evacuation last week dozens of passengers via the Xue Long, of China, which itself became stuck in heavy ice in the process.

But after a change in conditions, both vessels were able to break free of the ice on Tuesday night  and no longer needed assistance, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) said on Wednesday.

AMSA said the US Coast Guard vessel Polar Star, which had been tasked with helping to free the Russian and Chinese vessels, had now been released to continue its original Antarctic mission.

Fifty-two scientists, tourists and journalists spent more than a week locked in ice before being taken by the Xue Long’s helicopter to Australian icebreaker Aurora Australis.

Two researchers on the voyage were from the Illawarra.

The Australis is now on its way to Casey Station in the Antarctic before heading back to Hobart.

The group had been aboard the Akademik Shokalskiy retracing the path of 20th-century Australian Antarctic explorer Douglas Mawson.

AMSA acting CEO Mick Kinley praised the work of all five ships, including France’s L’Astrolabe, involved in the rescue.

‘‘This was a great example of the multi-lateral co-operative nature of Antarctic operations,’’ he said.

AAP

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