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Nature finally sets Russian, Chinese vessels free

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The Russian research ship Akademik Shokalskiy, which has been trapped in Antarctica since December 24, and Chinese vessel Xue Long that attempted to break through the Antarctic ice to rescue it but ended being stuck itself in the frigid continent, both have a reason to celebrate. The icebreaker of the U.S. Coast Guard en route to rescue them has not arrived yet, but Mother Nature has decided to set the two vessels free.

Winds shifted and the ice packs trapping the vessels somehow got loose enabling the research vessel and its rescuer to move through the frozen waters about 1,500 nautical miles from Hobart, Australia. According to reports, the Xue Long has reached blue waters while Akademik is on its way to escape the icy region and head for open waters soon.

"We will probably get to ice-free waters in five hours, but the ice around us already posed no danger. The ice about 50 centimetres thick, sometimes we encounter ice floes. But even if the ice is moved towards us by the wind, we will all the same successfully pass through it," said Captain Igor Kiselyov when interviewed by the news agency ITAR-TASS.

"The ship is in proper operating condition, there are no problems. We are currently moving at a speed of 8.5 knots, heading for New Zealand's port of Bluff, which we should reach on January 14," Kiselyov added.

On January 2, a Chinese chopper rescued 52 passengers from the Russian ship trapped by ice as thick as 10 feet. The scientists and tourists ferried from the Akademik Shokalskiy were flown to Aurora Australis, an Australian icebreaker. The 22 members of its crew remained on board to operate the vessel when it gets free from the ice.

On January 3, the Xue Long reported to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, which initially was overseeing rescue operations, that it had difficulty moving in the icy waters. It eventually gave up on its attempt to rescue the 233-foot vessel when it was blocked by a huge iceberg.

The trapped vessels gained media attention across the globe since there were journalists aboard the trapped Russian ship. While the rescue were hampered by extreme weather conditions, both vessels declared that lives of its passengers and crew were not in serious danger.

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