A Russian research ship stuck in expanding Antarctic ice and a Chinese ice breaker sent to help have put out calls for further assistance and the U.S. Coast Guard is responding.
The Akadmik Shokalskiy became stuck in the ice on December 24. Tourists, scientists and journalists were on board the Russian ship conducting global warming research.
Chinese icebreaker Xue Long was dispatched to rescue the trapped researchers. Using its helicopters it was able to airlift dozens of passengers to a second rescue ship, the Aurora Australis, on Thursday. However, the Xue Long soon found itself stuck in the expanding ice.
Last week the Australian government asked the United States for assistance in clearing the way for the two ships and yesterday it was announced the U.S. Coast Guard would dispatch one of its largest ships to help.
The Polar Star was already bound for Antarctica bringing fuel and supplies to McMurdo Station on Ross Island. Currently in Sydney, the ship will depart today and begin a seven day journey to rescue the rescuers and the stranded research vessel.
In a statement, Vice Adm. Paul F. Zukunft, commander of Coast Guard Pacific Area, said, ““The U.S. Coast Guard stands ready to respond to Australia’s request. Our highest priority is safety of life at sea, which is why we are assisting in breaking a navigational path for both of these vessels.”
The 399 foot long Polar Star is the U.S. Coast Guard’s only active heavy polar ice breaker. With its specially reinforced hull, the ship is believed to be one of the few capable of conducting the operation to save the Russian and Chinese ships.
The irony of having to rescue a climate change research vessel stuck in ice has not been lost on many.
Antarctic sea ice has been expanding and reaching expanses not seen in decades. At the opposite end of the globe, Arctic sea ice has seen a major turnaround this year.