The Antarctic ship rescue of a stranded Russian vessel, the MV Akademik Shokalskiy, has held the world’s attention ever since thick floes of ice trapped the ship on Dec. 24. Now, rescue crew members from Australia and China and are letting out a collective sigh of relief after 52 passengers were removed from the snared vessel on Thursday.
"Everyone is relieved and excited to be going on to the Australian icebreaker and then home," Chris Turney, leader of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition, which was using the Russian vessel to trace the route used by explorer Douglas Mawson a century ago, told The Associated Press.
Additionally, the Xue Long, a Chinese icebreaker that also became stuck while ferrying passengers off of MV Akademik Shokalskiy, is “no longer in distress,” according to a Twitter post from Turney.
“The Xue Long no longer in distress. Great news!” Turney tweeted Saturday.
But the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, or AMSA, said the Xue Long isn’t on its way home just yet. The AMSA said the ship’s attempt to maneuver through the ice on Saturday was unsuccessful, but that the crew was safe.
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“The Xue Long has confirmed to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority it is beset by ice,” the AMSA, who coordinated the rescue mission, said in a statement on Saturday. “The Master of Xue Long has confirmed to AMSA that the ship is safe, it is not in distress and does not require assistance at this time.”
On Dec. 24, the MV Akademik Shokalskiy, carrying 74 people onboard, mostly scientists and tourists, became stranded in the Antarctic ice. An Australian icebreaker, the Aurora Australis, was sent to retrieve the vessel, but a blizzard soon made its progress impossible.
The Chinese ice breaker the Xue Long, also known as the Snow Dragon, joined the rescue mission and was able to use its helicopter to pluck 52 passengers – 22 scientists, 26 paying passengers and four journalists – from the stranded Russian ship and deliver them, 12 at a time, to the Aurora Australis. The rescue took around five hours, according to NPR. The remaining passengers of the MV Akademik Shokalskiy would stay onboard until the ship becomes freed from the ice.
On Friday, the Xue Long, after its successful retrieval of MV Akademik Shokalskiy passengers, became stuck in ice. According to CTV News, the crew of the Chinese icebreaker was worried they wouldn’t be able to make it through the ice after an iceberg appeared overnight and blocked the ship’s return path.
The Aurora Australis was initially asked to stick around in case the Chinese icebreaker needed further assistance, but was then told it could continue on its route the Casey research base on the Windmill Islands, just outside the Antarctic Circle. The ship was supposed to make a supply drop there before returning to Hobart, the capital of the Tasmania.
“The masters of both Akademik Shokalskiy and Xue Long agree that further assistance from Aurora Australis is no longer required and they will be able to provide mutual support to each other,” the AMSA said.
Passengers of MV Akademik Shokalskiy were relieved to finally be going home. "It really has been an emotional roller coaster," Joanne Sim, Sydney resident and a paying passenger who was aboard the Russian vessel, told the Sydney Morning Herald.