Chinese research ship 'Snow Dragon' breaks free from ice zone

China's icebreaker breaks through dense floes days after crew rescued Russian ship passengers

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 07 January, 2014, 12:13pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 08 January, 2014, 6:17pm

China's Antarctic research ship the Xue Long broke free from the ice and entered a safe zone yesterday after a 14-hour struggle.

The escape at around 6pm Beijing time was made possible by a westerly wind that loosened the dense ice.

It brought a happy ending to a dramatic rescue mission in which its crew had earlier saved 52 scientists, journalists and tourists who were trapped on the Russian icebreaker Akademik Shokalskiy.

Hours later the captain of the Russian vessel, Igor Kiselyov, said his ship had also managed to navigate slowly through the ice, Agence France-Presse reported.

"Finally the wind changed to the west and as a result a crack appeared in the ice. We went into it and we are now slowly moving north," he said, acknowledging that sailing conditions were hard, with thick fog and visibility of "no more than 500 metres".

Xinhua reported that the captain of the Xue Long, or Snow Dragon, Wang Jianzhong, ran between starboard and port, observing the ice from behind sunglasses. He was physically exhausted but in high spirits, the agency said.

The icebreaker got trapped in thick Antarctic floes on Friday, a day after the Xue Long's helicopter ferried the passengers on the Russian ship, which had been trapped for 10 days, to the safety of an Australian vessel.

Scientists on board the Xue Long helped the crew by measuring the distance between the vessel and the ice with high- precision laser beams.

The breakout manoeuvre started at about 5am yesterday, according to the State Oceanic Administration.

Yuan Shaohong, party secretary of the State Oceanic Administration's Polar Research Institute and former captain of the Xue Long, told the Beijing Evening News that, after three hours of ice-breaking, the ship had moved only about 200 metres to the northeast.

"We were trapped because we came to save people," Wu Jiansheng, a sailor who has taken part in many polar expeditions, told China Oceanic News. "There is pride in our hearts."

Video: China's Antarctic research ship 'Snow Dragon' breaks free from ice zone