US, Zealand race to free ice-bound Australian ship
Los Angeles, Feb 12: A US icebreaker is racing to rescue an Australian fishing vessel with 27 people on board stuck in the Antarctic ice, the US Coast Guard has said.
The 207-foot (63-meter) Australian ship the "Antarctic Chieftain" contacted New Zealand rescue coordinators after becoming stuck some 900 miles (1,450 kilometres) Northeast of McMurdo Sound in Antarctica, it said in a statement yesterday.
New Zealand rescuers diverted the US Coast Guard Cutter "Polar Star," which was in the region, asking it to head to the Australian vessel's rescue.
The Seattle-based US ship must cut through over 330 miles (530 kilometres) of ice, and is expected to reach the stricken fishing vessel - which has three of its four propellers broken and can no longer manoeuvre - around 11:30 IST tomorrow.
"The considerable geographic distances and extreme environmental conditions make this a complex rescue mission," said Captain Matthew Walker, commanding officer of the "Polar Star."
"However, we're confident in our ability to reach the 'Antarctic Chieftain' and committed to ensuring the safety of life at sea no matter the challenges," he added.
The "Polar Star" will free the Australian ship from the ice, while a New Zealand-flagged fishing vessel in the area, the "Janas," is expected to escort or tow the "Antarctic Chieftain" to the nearest safe harbour.
"The seas of Antarctica are treacherous and unforgiving," said US Coast Guard Vice Admiral Charles Ray, commander of the US organisation's Pacific area.
"This incident is a sobering reminder of the importance of the US icebreaker fleet as we see increased human activity in the Polar Regions."