Snow Dragon finally begins supply operations at Chinese research station

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 29 January, 2014, 4:40pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 January, 2014, 6:23pm

After a 12-day voyage from a dock near the site of its famous ship rescue, Chinese icebreaker Xue Long (Snow Dragon) finally arrived near the Antarctic Great Wall Station to begin offloading supplies as part of its mission, Xinhua reported on Wednesday.

The Snow Dragon had previously docked at Victoria Land, a few kilometres from the site of its rescue operations for a stranded Russian research ship, before going on a 4,000 nautical mile journey to the Great Wall Station – the first Chinese research station built in Antarctica – which is located far northwest of the rescue site.

The state news agency said the crew carried out research work in Victoria Land for a possible new research station.

The Ukraine-made 15,000-tonne icebreaker, purchased by China in 1994, made headlines for helping in the rescue of Akademik Shokalskiy, which became trapped in ice in the Southern Ocean, off Antarctica’s southern coast.

After previous attempts by other vessels proved difficult, a helicopter aboard the Snow Dragon finally rescued 52 scientists, tourists and journalists on January 2.

However, the Chinese ship itself became trapped in frozen waters, eventually being freed when strong winds loosened the ice’s grip.

The rescue efforts had diverted the Snow Dragon from its intended destination, the Zhongshang Station, in eastern Antarctica. The ship apparently decided instead to dock at nearby Victoria Land, to the west, before proceeding to the Great Wall Station.

On Wednesday, it docked around 1.5 nautical miles from the Great Wall Station, at which point crew and expedition members unloaded barrels of fuel and supplies via the smaller Yellow River boat.

Next, the Snow Dragon will arrive in the Argentinian port of Ushuaia for supplies on February 4, where a new 20-member team will join the expedition. The southernmost tip of Argentina is around 1,000 kilometres from the northernmost tip of the icy peninsula.

The country’s first research icebreaker set sail in November last year on China’s 30th scientific mission to Antarctica with 256 crew and researchers, including scientists from Taiwan and Thailand.

According to Xinhua, the expedition will run for 155 days until April this year and covers 30 assignments, including taking supplies to existing Chinese stations; setting up the country’s fourth research outpost called the Taishan Station; and scouting for a fifth research location.