Otago woman trapped in Antarctic ice

The MV Akademik Shokalskiy. Photo by Ben Maddison
The MV Akademik Shokalskiy. Photo by Ben Maddison
Omakau-raised Nicole Kerr is one of four New Zealanders on a stricken ship that spent most of Christmas Day trapped in thick ice in the Antarctic.

Ms Kerr and her partner, who are both chefs, and New Zealand ornithologist Kerry-Jayne Wilson and paramedic Colin Tan are among 74 people stranded aboard the MV Akademik Shokalskiy.

The ship sent a distress signal to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (Amsa) after becoming stuck in pack ice about 3000km southwest of Bluff about 9.30am yesterday. The area is known for heavy seas and harsh weather conditions.

Three rescue ships with icebreaking capability were on their way to try to free the ship, but would not reach it until tomorrow night at the earliest, Amsa spokeswoman Andrea Hayward-Maher said.

Ms Kerr had been in touch with her parents to let them know she and her partner, a chef from Nelson, were fine.

''They're as good as gold. They're not panicking,'' her father Pete told the Otago Daily Times last night.

The ship was well provisioned and Ms Kerr had the experience of three or four trips to the Antarctic behind her, he said.

He could not confirm the name of Ms Kerr's partner.

Being stuck in ice did not seem to worry the expedition leader, Chris Turney, a professor of climate change at the University of New South Wales, who tweeted from the ship yesterday: ''Heavy ice. Beautiful; light wind. Only -1degC. All well. Merry Christmas everyone from AAE.''

The 30-year-old 71m-long Akademik Shokalskiy is part of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition - a voyage organised by a group of scientists to mark the 100-year anniversary of a similar trip by Australian explorer Sir Douglas Mawson.

It left Bluff on December 8 after a short expedition to the Auckland Islands and was due to return early in the New Year. The aim of the voyage was to reach Mawson's Hut in Cape Denison in the Antarctic, which some members from the ship achieved on Saturday after travelling 65km over ice in all-terrain vehicles.

The ship is in a region that falls under the responsibility of Australian search and rescue authorities.

Ms Hayward-Maher said the ship was ''in quite a remote part of the world''.

''But we have everyone safe. The vessel isn't in any immediate danger.''

It is not known how long the ship has been unable to break free from the ice floes. In a blog post on December 16, Ms Wilson, chairwoman of the Blue Penguin Trust, said the ship was having trouble fighting through pack ice.

''After all day yesterday pushing through dense pack ice we came to a point where we could go no further, the ice sheet was unbroken and several metres thick,'' she posted.

''Today has been frustrating, by this afternoon we were only a few kilometres west of where we had been 24 hours previously.''

- The New Zealand Herald/ODT.

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