China plans to build a new icebreaker for polar expeditions as its veteran Xuelong, or Snow Dragon, remains stuck in Antarctica after rescuing passengers from a Russian vessel.
Qu Tanzhou, director of the State Oceanic Administration's Chinese Arctic and Antarctic Administration, told Xinhua on Sunday that designs for the vessel were in the process after gaining official approval.
"The new icebreaker will be shorter and be equipped with blades both at the bow and the stern, which will be able to open ice 1.5 meters thick," said Qu.
Designed mainly for field research instead of transporting supplies, the new icebreaker will also have a better power system, larger decks and laboratories. It will be a "mobile research station," said Qu.
Put into use in 1994, the Ukraine-built Xuelong was designed for transporting supplies to China's research stations in the Antarctic. It can break ice that is 1.2 meters thick.
Xueying 12, a helicopter on board Xuelong, on Thursday successfully evacuated all 52 passengers aboard the Russian vessel MV Akademik Shokalskiy that had been stranded since Christmas Eve. The passengers were transferred to Australian icebreaker Aurora Australis. The Australian icebreaker had been sent to rescue the Russian ship.After rescuing the passengers, Xuelong became stuck because of floating ice.
Xuelong is 66.65 degrees south latitude and 144.42 degrees east longitude. It is surrounded by sheets of ice up to four meters thick and is about 21 km away from unfrozen waters, according to the State Oceanic Administration.
China has sent a team to rescue Xuelong. There is no immediate danger to personnel aboard Xuelong, which is well stocked with food supplies and has enough fuel.
Zhang Jiansong, a Xinhua reporter, is aboard Xuelong. She said the blizzard on Sunday left the deck extremely slippery and people could hardly walk on it.
"Despite that, the Xuelong crew stay positive and have carried on experiments on board as scheduled," she said.
The U.S. Coast Guard will send its icebreaker Polar Star to assist Xuelong and the Russian vessel, Australian Maritime Safety Authority said Saturday.
Qu said the planned expedition by Xuelong will be altered once it is out of trouble