Relief at Antarctic rescue turns to fear for Chinese ship

Relief at Antarctic rescue turns to fear for Chinese ship

SYDNEY - Australian authorities expressed relief Friday after 52 passengers were safely evacuated by helicopter from a Russian ship stranded in Antarctica, but then raised concern for a Chinese rescue vessel caught in heavy ice.

Officials tasked with freeing the scientific expedition on the Akademik Shokalskiy, which has been stuck since December 24, succeeded in flying them out Thursday in an on-off rescue operation.

A helicopter from Chinese icebreaker Xue Long used a makeshift landing pad next to the marooned ship and ferried the scientists, tourists and journalists to an Australian government supply vessel, the Aurora Australis.

But it emerged later Friday that the Chinese ship, which has not moved much for several days, may itself be trapped by thick ice, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) said.

"Xue Long notified AMSA at 1pm AEDT (0200 GMT) this afternoon it has concerns about their ability to move through heavy ice in the area," it said.

"The Aurora Australis has been placed on standby by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority's Rescue Coordination Centre Australia to remain in open water in the area as a precautionary measure."

AMSA said the Chinese ship would attempt to manoeuvre through the ice when tidal conditions are most suitable during the early hours Saturday, adding there was no immediate danger to those onboard.

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