Chinese Icebreaker Damaged in Iceberg Collision

Snow and ice on the Xue Long's bow after the collision (Chinese state media)

Published Jan 22, 2019 4:10 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Chinese icebreaker Xue Long suffered minor damage on Saturday after striking an iceberg, according to China's Ministry of Natural Resources. 

The collision occurred at 69.6 S 94.0 W, off the coast of the Antarctic Peninsula. The Xue Long was making three knots in foggy conditions at the time of the encounter. Images broadcast by state television showed a small mountain of ice and snow on the Xue Long's deck forward, and the crew used picks, axes, firehoses and deck cranes to break the debris free and put it over the side. 

Video from the scene showed damage to the Xue Long's foremast, railings and other fixtures on her bow, but no injuries or mechanical casualties were reported.

The 1993-built Xue Long is China's sole heavy icebreaker (and one more is due for delivery this year). She was last in the news in 2014, when she was involved in evacuating 52 passengers from the Russian icebreaker Akademik Shokalskiy. The Shokalskiy became trapped in the ice off the coast of East Antarctica in December 2013, prompting a multinational rescue effort. Xue Long could not reach the Russian vessel, but she deployed her helicopter to airlift the passengers to the Australian icebreaker Aurora Australis. 

China is intensifying its involvement in the polar regions, and its activities in Antarctica figure prominently in state media coverage. On January 4, a Chinese overland mission completed a 750-mile, 18-day journey from the coast to the Kunlun research station, the highest-elevation outpost on the continent. Kunlun lies a few miles from Dome A, the highest point on Antarctica's glaciers at about 13,500 feet above sea level. It is quite possibly the coldest region on earth: In 2010, satellite measurements recorded a record low of -136 F near Dome A during the Antarctic winter.