CANBERRA, Australia – An Australian icebreaker carrying 52 passengers who were retrieved from an icebound ship in the Antarctic resumed its journey home on Saturday after it was halted for a second potential rescue operation.
The icebreaker Aurora Australis had been slowly cracking through thick ice toward open water after a Chinese ship's helicopter on Thursday plucked the passengers from their stranded Russian research ship and carried them to an ice floe near the Aurora.
But on Friday afternoon, the crew of a Chinese icebreaker that had provided the helicopter said they were worried about their own ship's ability to move through the ice.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority's Rescue Coordination Centre, which oversaw the rescue, told the Aurora on Friday afternoon to stay in the area in case help was needed.
But AMSA said the Aurora had been allowed on Saturday to continue its journey despite the Chinese ship Snow Dragon, or Xue Long in Chinese, remaining stuck in ice.
"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," AMSA said in a statement.
The Aurora had been put on standby as a precaution while the Snow Dragon attempted to manoeuver through the pack ice during optimal tidal conditions early Saturday, AMSA said.
That attempt failed. The Chinese ship remains stuck several kilometers (miles) from the Russian icebreaker Akademik Shokalskiy, from which the passengers were rescued. The Russian ship has been immobile since Christmas Eve.
"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," AMSA said.
AMSA said the Aurora had resumed its journey to Australia's Antarctic base on a resupply mission before returning to the Australian island state of Tasmania in mid-January.