Antarctic Ships Escape from Ice Trap

A U.S. Coast Guard cutter stands down as Russian and Chinese ships break free

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Two ships that were trapped in Antarctic ice finally broke free on Tuesday, ending a two-week ordeal that left rescuers no choice but to evacuate passengers and crew members using a helicopter.

Cracks in the ice and weather changes allowed the Russian research ship Akademik Shokalskiy and Chinese icebreaker Xue Long to break free from the ice on Tuesday. The Russian ship had been stuck for more than two weeks, since Christmas Eve, carrying 52 passengers. A number of rescue attempts failed, including one by the Chinese ice breaker, which found itself trapped in the ice as well as it came to the Shokalskiy’s aid. A helicopter was flown in to rescue the research vessel’s passengers on Tuesday, Jan. 2 after being stuck aboard for 10 days.

The U.S. Coast Guard announced that its cutter Polar Star, which had been dispatched to try and break the ships from the ice trap, has been released by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, which had requested assistance with the rescue.

The newly-freed ships will steam north, according to Russian captain, Igor Kiselev.