A rescue icebreaker is expected to reach an ship trapped by
ice in Antarctica with 74 people on board, including six New
Zealanders, early tomorrow morning.
The Russian explorer vessel Akademik Shokalskiy has been
marooned in ice 3000km southwest of Bluff since Christmas
Chinese icebreaker Xue Long got within 6.1 nautical miles,
close enough to be visible on the horizon from the stricken
ship, but abandoned the rescue after striking heavy ice.
A second rescue vessel, the French-flagged icebreaker
L'Astrolabe, was released from the rescue operation
Only one ship, the Australian Antarctic Division icebreaker
Aurora Australis, rated at being able to push through ice
slightly deeper than one metre thick, is still making its way
to the Akademik Shokalskiy.
The Aurora Australis was about 100 nautical miles from the
trapped ship at 4pm (NZT), and was due to arrive about 1am
tomorrow (NZT), the Australian Maritime Safety Authority
(AMSA) said in a statement.
It was the last ship in the area that would be able to help,
the Australian Associated Press reported.
"It is making good progress and once it arrives ... it will
assess whether it is capable of making its way to the
Akademik or whether we need to look at other options," AMSA
spokeswoman Lisa Martin said.
The Xue Long, which has a helicopter on board, has remained
in the area to help with a rescue if required.
It could transfer some people on to its own vessel, and
others on to the Aurora Australis, Ms Martin said.
Aurora Australis can accommodate up to 80 additional people
and has large supplies of food and fuel.
Where the people would be taken once it was lifted off the
ice was yet to be determined.
That decision would be made by the ship's master, in
consultation with the Australian Maritime Safety Authority,
Ms Martin said.
"We won't be able to say until we get them on board and
assess their needs."
The Akademik Shokalskiy left Bluff on December 8 on an
expedition led by scientists from the University of New South
The stranded ship was retracing Sir Douglas Mawson's 1911
Antarctic expedition when it became trapped.
Among the stranded passengers are six New Zealanders -
ornithologist Kerry-Jayne Wilson, University of Auckland
doctoral student Colin Tan, historians John and Barbara
Tucker, and two chefs.
The 74 people on board are reported to be safe and in high
Janet Rice, an Australian Green party politician who has been
on board since the ship left New Zealand, told a Guardian
newspaper journalist who is also on board: "I understand why
people might be concerned, but the feeling today on board the
ship is like a summer holiday when the weather is bad, when
you're stuck inside reading books and playing Scrabble. We've
been assured that we're in no danger and it's just a matter
- Kurt Bayer and Brendan Manning of APNZ