Stuck, but 'everyone happy'

A New Zealand scientist stranded aboard a ship in the Antarctic has reassured family back home that all is well - despite the stricken vessel being barraged by blizzards and stuck in thick pack ice.

Ornithologist Kerry-Jayne Wilson is one of six New Zealanders stuck on MV Akademik Shokalskiy as part of a expedition led by scientists from the University of New South Wales.

The ship - which left Bluff on December 8 - sent a distress signal to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority on Christmas morning after becoming stuck in pack ice about 3000km southwest of Bluff.

Dr Wilson, from Charleston on the West Coast, said via satellite phone that the crew had managed to have a ''jolly Christmas'' aboard the Russian-flagged ship.

''I just want to reassure them [family] that everyone is happy,'' Dr Wilson said.

''Everyone is well and the ship is safe and we're in absolutely no danger at all.''

Omakau-raised Nicole Kerr is a chef on the ship.

Her father Pete told the Otago Daily Times on Christmas Day that she had been in touch and told her parents all was well.

He said he had not heard further from her, when contacted by the ODT yesterday.

There are 48 passengers and 20 crew members aboard the ship, which was chartered by a group of scientists to follow in the footsteps of Australian Antarctic explorer and scientist Sir Douglas Mawson.

Dr Wilson - chairwoman of the Blue Penguin Trust - said the unexpected stoppage might be a blessing in disguise.

''Frankly, I was a bit pleased to have a day off. If we had been moving yesterday [Christmas day], I would be up and down the bridge every hour [conducting bird observations],'' Dr Wilson said.

''Instead, I could relax and enjoy Christmas with the rest of the crew.''

The ship was due to return to Bluff early in the new year, but those plans were ''up in the air'', she said.

The other New Zealanders on board the ship are University of Auckland doctoral student Colin Tan, historians John and Barbara Tucker, Ms Kerr and her partner, who is also a chef.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs previously said four New Zealanders were on the ship, but Dr Wilson said Mr and Mrs Tucker may not have been counted because they live in Australia.

Dr Chris Fogwill, co-leader of the expedition, said being stuck in the ice was ''deeply frustrating''.

''We've had two big low pressure systems come which have pushed ice up against the coast and caught us north about two miles [3.2km] from the edge of the ice. So we're very close, in fact you can almost see the ice edge from here.''

The Chinese registered ice-breaker Snow Dragon is on its way to help and should reach the trapped ship by tomorrow morning at the latest.

''There's no immediate worry but we're keen to get out of here as soon as we can,'' Dr Wilson said.

 

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