Chinese ice-breaker Xue Long that helped rescue passengers stranded on the Akademik Shokalskiy vessel in Antarctica is now stuck itself.
An Australian ice-breaker carrying the rescued passengers is no longer on standby and is returning to shore.
On Thursday, a helicopter from the Xue Long transferred 52 passengers from the Akademik Shokalskiy to the Aurora Australis.
Russian scientific mission Akademik Shokalskiy has been trapped by thick floes of ice since 24 December.
“Xue Long’s attempt to manoeuvre through the ice… was unsuccessful. Xue Long has confirmed to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) [that] it is beset by ice,” AMSA said in a statement on Saturday.
“The master of Xue Long has confirmed to AMSA that the ship is safe, it is not in distress and does not require assistance at this time,” AMSA said, adding that there was no immediate danger to the ice-breaker’s crew.
Chinese ice-breaker Xue Long that helped rescue passengers stranded on the Akademik Shokalskiy vessel in Antarctica is now stuck itself
It is the latest twist in what has become a complicated rescue operation in the Antarctic.
The Australian Aurora Australis had been asked to remain in open water nearby in case the Xue Long needed help – but AMSA said this was no longer needed and it had been released from its search and rescue mission.
The authority added that the Australian vessel was travelling to the Casey research base on the Windmill Islands, just outside the Antarctic Circle, to complete a re-supply task before continuing to Hobart – the capital of the Australian state of Tasmania.
Andrew Peacock, an Australian doctor and photographer who was rescued from the Russian ship, spoke of his fellow passengers’ frustration aboard the Aurora over the latest delay in their journey home, according to the Associated Press.
“So our time down south is not over yet and we are going to be delayed in our return to friends and family by some time yet, which is frustrating,” Andrew Peacock said before the Aurora was given permission to continue.
The Akademik Shokalskiy became trapped by thick floes of ice driven by strong winds, about 1,500 nautical miles south of Hobart.
The Akademik Shokalskiy was being used by the Australasian Antarctic Expedition (AAE) 2013 to follow the route explorer Douglas Mawson travelled a century ago.
An Australian vessel is en route to East Antarctica in a renewed bid to free Akademik Shokalskiy scientific mission ship trapped in dense pack ice since Christmas.
Earlier rescue attempts by Chinese and French icebreakers were foiled by the thick ice.
Seventy-four scientists, tourists and crew are on the Akademik Shokalskiy.
The vessel is being used by the Australasian Antarctic Expedition to follow the route explorer Douglas Mawson travelled a century ago.
The Shokalskiy remains well stocked with food and is in no danger, according to the team.
An Australian vessel is en route to East Antarctica in a renewed bid to free Akademik Shokalskiy
Despite being trapped, the scientists have continued their experiments, measuring temperature and salinity through cracks in the surrounding ice.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), which is coordinating the rescue, said the Aurora Australis was expected to reach the trapped research ship on Sunday around 12:00 GMT.
The powerful icebreaker can cut ice up to 5.2 ft thick – potentially still enough to plough through the estimated three-metre wall surrounding the Shokalskiy.
If this latest relief operation fails, passengers could be winched to safety by a helicopter on board the Chinese icebreaker, which had to abort its rescue mission on Saturday.
The Snow Dragon came within seven nautical miles of the Russian ship before stalling and being forced to return to the open sea.
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Russian Akademik Shokalskiy scientific mission ship, trapped in dense pack ice off East Antarctica, is still awaiting rescue after Chinese icebreaker Snow Dragon failed to reach it.
The Snow Dragon icebreaker was itself stalled by heavy ice, officials say.
It had been trying to cut a path through the ice in order to help the research vessel reach open water.
The Akademik Shokalskiy, which has been trapped since Christmas Day, has 74 on board and is being used by the Australasian Antarctic Expedition.
They are following the route explorer Douglas Mawson travelled a century ago.
One of the leaders of the expedition, Chris Turney, earlier tweeted an image of the Snow Dragon icebreaker – also known as the Xue Long – on the horizon as it approached the research ship.
The Chinese vessel came within seven nautical miles of the expedition ship, but encountered heavy ice and was forced to return to the open sea.
Akademik Shokalskiy scientific mission ship is still awaiting rescue after Snow Dragon icebreaker failed to reach it
“Our rescue boat, the Xue Long, has had to turn back because the ice was too thick for it to get through,” said Alok Jha, a journalist on board the Shokalskiy.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority, which is coordinating the rescue, confirmed that a French vessel had also failed to penetrate the ice.
The agency said another boat, the Aurora Australis, was on its way to the Russian vessel and expected to arrive on Sunday.
“I think we’re probably looking at another 24 hours of twiddling our fingers and waiting for something to happen,” the expedition’s spokesman Alvin Stone told the Associated Press.
Correspondents say expedition members could be winched to safety by a helicopter if the weather remains favorable.
The research ship Shokalskiy was trapped by thick sheets of ice that were driven by strong winds about 1,500 nautical miles south of Hobart – the capital of the Australian state of Tasmania.
There had also been fears that blizzards could hamper the rescue effort.
The Shokalskiy is well stocked with food and is in no danger, according to the team.
Although trapped for the moment, the scientists are continuing their experiments. They have been measuring temperature and salinity through cracks in the surrounding ice.