An Australian icebreaker carrying 52 passengers who were retrieved from an icebound ship in the Antarctic was told to halt its journey home yesterday after a Chinese vessel involved in the dramatic rescue became concerned that it, too, may get stuck in the heavy sea ice.
The icebreaker Aurora Australis had been slowly cracking through thick ice toward open water after a Chinese helicopter on Thursday plucked the passengers from their stranded Russian research ship and carried them to the Aurora.
However, yesterday afternoon, the crew of a Chinese icebreaker that had provided the helicopter said they were worried about their own ship’s ability to move through the ice.
The Aurora — which was carrying the passengers to the Australian island state of Tasmania — was told to stay in the area in case the Chinese icebreaker Snow Dragon needs help, according to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority’s Rescue Coordination Centre, which oversaw the rescue.
The Snow Dragon, which is at the edge of the ice pack surrounding the Russian vessel, will attempt to push through the ice to open water today.
The Aurora is waiting about 11km north of the Snow Dragon, marine authority spokeswoman Lisa Martin said.
The agency said the decision to place the Aurora on standby was a precaution and there was no danger to anyone on board the Snow Dragon.
However, it was yet another wrinkle in the highly complex rescue operation of those on board the Russian ship MV Akademik Shokalskiy, which got stuck in the ice on Christmas Eve.
It took seven hours for the Snow Dragon’s helicopter to carry the scientists and tourists in groups of 12 to the Aurora.