U.S. Sends Icebreaker To Rescue Ships Trapped In Antarctica

The U.S. Coast Guard is sending the Polar Star icebreaker ship to help rescue two vessels locked in Antarctic ice.

U.S. Sends Icebreaker To Rescue Ships Trapped In Antarctica
U.S. Coast Guard

A Russian vessel trapped for over two weeks in Antarctic ice will soon have another shot at breaking free. A U.S. icebreaker is heading to Antarctica to help clear a path for the trapped ship — and for one of its would-be rescuers.

The Akademik Shokalskiy first got stuck in the ice on Christmas Eve, trapping the scientific exploration on board. Efforts from Chinese and Australian icebreakers to free the frozen ship ultimately failed, and the Chinese ship Xue Long became stuck in the process. (Via BBC)

Eventually, the 52 passengers aboard the Russian ship were evacuated via helicopter on Jan. 2. They're currently on board the Australian vessel, which is waiting in open water for the other two ships to break free. (Via The Guardian)

The Australian government officially requested the U.S. Coast Guard's help in rescuing the stuck ship Friday. Russia and China have also asked for U.S. assistance.

On Saturday, the Coast Guard announced it has diverted the Polar Star, the fleet's only active heavy icebreaker, to try and break up the ice trapping both the Xue Long and the Akadmik ​Shokalskiy. 

The Polar Star's arrival should considerably speed up rescue efforts. While the Chinese and Australian icebreakers could only break through a few feet of ice, the Coast Guard ship can consistently plow through six feet of ice, and could punch through 21 feet of ice at ramming speed.

The Polar Star was originally scheduled to break through the ice around McMurdo Sound and refuel the U.S. Antarctica research station located in the region. It leaves Sydney on Sunday and should arrive at the trapped ships within a week.