The Coast Guard says its Seattle-based icebreaker, the Polar Star, is no longer needed for an Antarctic rescue mission after both a Russian research ship and a Chinese icebreaker that tried to help the Russian vessel broke free of heavy pack ice.
The Coast Guard Pacific Area command center in Alameda, Calif., said Tuesday it had been told by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority that both ships were free and the Polar Star’s help was no longer necessary.
The Polar Star, the Coast Guard’s only active heavy polar icebreaker, left its Seattle homeport last month on a mission to break a channel through the sea ice of McMurdo Sound to allow the resupply and refueling of the U.S. Antarctic Program’s McMurdo and Amundsen-Scott South Pole stations. It was asked last Friday to help the stranded ships.
The 399-foot-long ship will now return to its original mission.
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The Russian research ship, the Akademik Shokalskiy, which had been at the center of a rescue drama, broke free from heavy pack ice hours after a Chinese icebreaker that became trapped while trying to help it.
The Akademik Shokalskiy had been trapped in ice-clogged Commonwealth Bay since Christmas Eve, while the Chinese ship that came to its rescue, Xue Long — Snow Dragon in Chinese — reported last week it, too, was stuck.
But the Snow Dragon was able to use its helicopter to retrieve 52 scientists, journalists and tourists from the Russian ship. They are now on their way home aboard an Australian icebreaker, Aurora Australis.
The Chinese official Xinhua news agency reported from the Snow Dragon on Tuesday that it had successfully escaped after making a 100-degree turn and pushing away the ice, and opening up a channel of water.
Russia’s state news agency ITAR-Tass reported that the Akademik Shokalskiy, with its crew members who had stayed on board, was making its way out of the dense ice on its own, too.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority’s Rescue Coordination Centre, which is responsible for rescues in the region, said it was informed early Wednesday that both ships had managed to break free and were making slow progress through lighter ice conditions toward open water.
The Snow Dragon had advised that it no longer required further assistance. The center was awaiting confirmation from the Russian ship on Wednesday that it also did not require further assistance.
The Polar Star cut short an Australian stopover on Sunday to head to the rescue of the two icebreakers by clearing a navigational path. The journey from Sydney was expected to take the 122-meter (399-foot) cutter a week.
“Polar Star will continue to head toward the area until it is clear that both vessels are free of the ice field and no longer in danger,” the center said in a statement.