A Chinese icebreaker trying to rescue a ship trapped in Antarctic ice was forced to turn back after being unable to push its way through the heavy sea ice.
The Snow Dragon came within seven miles of the Russian ship MV Akademik Shokalskiy, which has been stuck since Christmas Eve, but had to retreat after the ice became too thick, said expedition spokesman Alvin Stone.
The Akademik Shokalskiy, which has been on a research expedition to Antarctica, got stuck on Tuesday after blizzards pushed the sea ice around the ship, freezing it in place.
The ship was not in danger of sinking, and there are weeks worth of supplies for the 74 scientists, tourists and crew on board, but the vessel cannot move.
Three icebreakers, including the Snow Dragon, have been trying to reach the ship since Wednesday, and France’s L’Astrolabe has also made it to the edge of the sea ice surrounding the ship.
But it will wait there with the Snow Dragon for the arrival of Australia’s Aurora Australis, which has the best chance of breaking through the thick ice, Mr Stone said. The Australian vessel is not expected to reach the area until tomorrow.
“I think we’re probably looking at another 24 hours of twiddling our fingers and waiting for something to happen,” he said.
The scientific team on board the research ship – which left New Zealand on November 28 – had been recreating Australian explorer Douglas Mawson’s century-old voyage to Antarctica when it became trapped.
They plan to continue their expedition after they are freed, expedition leader Chris Turney said.
Passengers and crew initially had to contend with blizzards, but the weather has calmed considerably since then, Mr Turney said.
Despite the interruption to the expedition, the scientists have continued their research while stuck, counting birds in the area and drilling through the ice surrounding the ship to photograph sea life.
Those on board also managed to celebrate the holiday with a traditional Christmas feast and a “Secret Santa” gift exchange, which helped keep everyone’s spirits high, Mr Turney said.