Changing weather patterns may bring hope to stuck Chinese icebreaker
The Chinese icebreaker that rescued 52 passengers stranded aboard a Russian ship last week is biding its time to save itself from Antarctic ice, as weather conditions may turn favorable on Monday.
Experts and scientists aboard Xuelong, or Snow Dragon, are planning three possible routes to take advantage of good weather from Monday to Wednesday, a senior official said.
"The weather conditions on Monday will decide which route to take," Qu Tanzhou, director of the Chinese Arctic and Antarctic Administration under the State Oceanic Administration, told China Daily over the phone on Sunday.
Ice floes near the vessel are up to 4 meters thick. Xuelong can break ice of 1.1 meters.
But Qu said the good news is that the ice floes are not worsening as the wind direction is changing.
Xuelong has sailed back and forth over a 1-km span to prevent it from becoming frozen in the ice, the vessel's captain Wang Jianzhong told China Central Television on Saturday.
The ship was blocked by a 1-km-long iceberg, which is drifting northwest, after it used a helicopter to rescue passengers from the Russian ship Akademik Shokalskiy and take them to Aurora Australis, an Australian supply ship in Antarctica last week. The Russian ship has been stranded in Antarctica since Dec 24.
Polar Star, the US Coast Guard's heavy polar icebreaker, was leaving Sidney, Australia, on Sunday morning to assist Xuelong and the Russian vessel.
The 122-meter US ship is able to continuously break 1.8 meters of ice at about 5.6 km per hour and 6.4 meters of ice by reversing and ramming it, according to the US Coast Guard.
Vice-Admiral Paul Zukunft of the Coast Guard Pacific Area Command said the crew is prepared to free a path for the vessels.
Everyone was hoping the two vessels would be able to get underway on their own power before Polar Star is even able to get into range, Chief Warrant Officer Allyson Conroy, spokeswoman for the Pacific Area Command, told KTUU.com, an NBC-affiliated television station serving Alaska.
Qu estimated that Polar Star can reach the stranded region on Sunday. "If Xuelong hasn't sailed out by then, Polar Star will help."
Food aboard Xuelong is enough until April and fresh water supplies are enough for 29 days, Xu Ting, deputy leader of the Chinese Antarctic expedition, told CCTV on Sunday.
Qu added that those aboard are safe and in a relaxed mood, and they can play ping-pong and watch movies.
Currently, 101 scientists and 42 crew are aboard Xue Long.