BEIJING (AFP) - A Chinese ship that helped rescue passengers from a Russian vessel stranded in Antarctica only to get stuck in the ice itself may soon have a shot at breaking free, state media reported on Tuesday.
A westerly wind expected to pick up before Wednesday could give the Xue Long, or Snow Dragon, its best chance of escaping the heavy ice in which it has been trapped since last Friday, the China Daily newspaper reported.
"The window for the vessel to sail out is quite small, which means Xue Long needs to be ready at any moment before Wednesday," Mr Zhang Lin, a Beijing-based meteorologist involved in the rescue effort, told the newspaper.
The westerly wind is expected to help push away some of the heavy ice surrounding the Chinese research vessel, according to the official Xinhua news agency, which noted that the floes are three times thicker than the ship's ice-breaking capacity.
The Xue Long's helicopter last Thursday ferried 52 passengers on the stranded Russian ship Akademik Shokalskiy, which had been trapped for 10 days, to the safety of an Australian vessel.
"Its performance, especially the success in rescuing all the passengers, has been given the thumbs up by global public opinion," the Global Times said in an editorial. "China should be proud of it."
"Xue Long's mission is an epitome of China's attitude toward its international obligations," it added.
But the Chinese ship then became surrounded by ice itself, and an effort to break free early Saturday was unsuccessful.
It has 101 people on board, while 22 crew remain on the trapped Shokalskiy.
The Chinese ship - which includes a gym, movie theatre and ping-pong tables among its facilities - has enough food supplies to last until April and enough fresh water for the next month, Xinhua reported.
An American vessel Polar Star, a US Coast Guard icebreaker, has been dispatched to the aid of the two trapped ships and is expected to arrive on Sunday.