A rescue icebreaker was expected to reach a ship trapped by
ice in the Antarctic with 74 people on board, including six
New Zealanders, early today.
The Russian explorer vessel Akademik Shokalskiy has
been marooned in ice 3000km southwest of Bluff since
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
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 1m thick, is still making its way to
Aurora Australis was about 100 nautical miles from the
trapped ship at 4pm (NZT) yesterday, and was due to arrive
about 1am today (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.
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 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.''
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
''We've been assured that we're in no danger and it's just a
matter of waiting.''