Wait Is Over For Antarctic Explorers: They Can Head Home

One day after being told the ship they're now on might have to assist another stranded vessel, the explorers have been told their trip can continue. The stranded icebreaker says it is not in distress and can wait for conditions to improve.

The on-again, off-again trip home for 52 people rescued from a ship stuck in the Antarctic is on again.

Those scientists and paying passengers, who on Thursday were ferried by helicopter from the stranded MV Akademik Shokalskiy to an Australian icebreaker nearby, were told on Friday that their voyage to Australia had to be delayed.

The hitch: The Chinese icebreaker Xue Long, which had assisted in the passengers' rescue, was itself stuck in ice.

So the Aurora Australis — the ship to which the passengers had been flown — was asked to stay in the area in case its assistance was needed.

But there's word via Twitter on Saturday from expedition leader Chris Turney that "the Xue Long no longer in distress. Great news!"

The Xue Long (also known as the Snow Dragon) is not, however, free. According to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, the ship tried and failed to break out of the ice on Saturday.

But, the authority says:

"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. There is no immediate danger to personnel on board the Xue Long. The Xue Long has advised AMSA it has food supplies for several weeks."

It appears, the authority adds, that the captains of the Xue Long and the Akademic Shokalskiy have agreed that their ships can "provide mutual support to each other" until they're both able to break free, hopefully in coming days or weeks. They're said to be several miles apart.

It was a helicopter from the Xue Long that flew the stranded passengers to the Aurora Australis.

So, while two ships remain behind, the Aurora Australis and its passengers are on their way again to an expected mid-January arrival at the Australian state of Tasmania.

The Akademik Shokalskiy, which was about halfway into a month-long expedition, got stuck in the ice near Cape de la Motte in East Antarctica on Christmas Eve. The trip was an attempt to retrace the steps of Australian explorer Douglas Mawson, who led the Australasian Antarctic Expedition of 1911-14.

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