Jan. 5 (UPI) -- The U.S. Coast Guard has deployed the Cutter Polar Star to the Antarctic to rescue two ships wedged into the ice.
The Coast Guard said in a statement Saturday that the Australian, Russian and Chinese governments requested help for the stranded icebreakers Akademik Shokalskiy and Xue Long.
“Our highest priority is safety of life at sea, which is why we are assisting in breaking a navigational path for both of these vessels," said Vice Adm. Paul F. Zukunft. "We are pleased to learn the passengers of the Akademik Shokalskiy have been transported safely off the vessel. We are always ready and duty bound to render assistance in one of the most remote and harsh environments on the face of the globe.”
Rescue operations began after the Russian research vessel got stuck in the Antarctic ice on Christmas Eve. After ferrying 52 passengers to the Australian ship Aurora Australis, China's Xue Long found themselves trapped in ice.
The Polar Star left Sydney on Sunday and will take about seven days to reach Commonwealth Bay, where the two ships await assistance. One of the largest ships in the Coast Guard's fleet, the Polar Star is 399 feet long and can break through up to 21 feet of ice.
The Aurora Australis, meanwhile, is headed to Tasmania with the rescued Akademik Shokalskiy passengers.
"Thanks so much to wonderful crew of @AusAntarctic Aurora. Truly appreciate what you have done," expedition leader Chris Turney tweeted Friday.
He also shared video of his team's evacuation from the trapped ship.
[U.S. Coast Guard, Australian Maritime Safety Authority]