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Chinese icebreaker stuck in ice after rescue

A Chinese icebreaker that helped retrieve passengers stranded on an icebound Russian ship in the Antarctic says it has become stuck itself. But the rescued passengers are finally on their way home.

A Chinese icebreaker that was used to help retrieve passengers from the icebound Russian ship Akademik Shokalskiy in the Antarctic said on Saturday that it is now itself trapped.

"Xue Long has confirmed to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) it is beset by ice," the AMSA said in a statement.

The Chinese news agency Xinhua, which has journalists on board the Xue Long, said the ship needed to wait until a huge iceberg had shifted before continuing its voyage.

AMSA said that the Xue Long - or Snow Dragon - had undertaken an unsuccessful attempt to free itself early on Saturday. But it said the master of the ship had confirmed that the vessel was safe and did not require assistance.

This means that the Australian icebreaker Aurora Australis, which is carrying the 52 passengers rescued from the Akademik Shokalskiy, is finally free to resume its journey home. The vessel had been asked by AMSA to stand by in case the Xue Long needed help.

It will now head to Australia's Antarctic base, Casey Station, to deliver supplies before returning to the Australian island state of Tasmania in mid-January.

The Xue Long providedthe helicopter used to rescue the passengers from the Russian vessel after several attempts had been made to cut through ice to reach it.

Disrupted programs

The Akademik Shokolskiy became trapped in ice on Christmas Eve. It remains stuck, with 22 Russian crew on board, 100 nautical miles (185 km) from the French Antarctic base of Dumont d'Urville.

Its paying passengers, who mostly come from Australia and New Zealand, were following in the footsteps of a 1911-1914 expedition by the Australian explorer Douglas Mawson.

The rescue has caused considerable disruptions to the scientific programs being carried out by Chinese, French, and Australian teams in Antarctica.

tj/bk (dpa, AFP)

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