2 icebreakers trapped in Antarctica break free
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2 icebreakers trapped in Antarctica break free

BEIJING (AP) — A Russian research ship at the center of an Antarctic rescue drama has broken free from heavy pack ice, officials confirmed on Wednesday, hours after a Chinese icebreaker that became trapped while trying to help the Akademik Shokalskiy also freed itself and was heading for open waters.

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, or 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 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 who had stayed on board, was making its way out of the dense ice on its own.

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.

A U.S. Coast Guard heavy icebreaker, Polar Star, cut short an Australian stopover on Sunday to head to the rescue of the two icebreakers by clearing a navigational path through Commonwealth Bay. 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.

The center did not give other details on how the ships escaped the ice, but favorable wind conditions forecast this week were expected to help.