Antarctic rescue delayed

The rescue of passengers, including six New Zealanders, from a ship stranded in pack ice in Antarctic waters has been delayed.

Sea ice conditions are preventing a barge from operating between two rescue vessels, so the rescue of passengers from the MV Akademik Shokalskiy may not go ahead today, the Australian Marine Safety Authority (AMSA) said.

AMSA said current sea ice conditions prevented the barge from Aurora Australis from reaching the Chinese vessel Xue Long (Snow Dragon).

The Xue Long's helicopter is unable to land on the Aurora Australis due to load rating restrictions, and it's not safe to land next to the ship.

The rescue plan had been to helicopter the 52 passengers to the Snow Dragon, and then take them by barge to the Aurora Australis.

AMSA said all passengers on board the MV Akademik Shokalskiy were safe and well, and the preferred option was to wait for conditions that would allow the rescue to be completed in a single operation to reduce unnecessary risk.

Alternative measures to complete the rescue operation are now being investigated by AMSA and the ships involved.

The rescue is being managed by AMSA's Rescue Coordination Centre (RCC Australia).

RCC Australia continues to be in regular contact with all vessels involved, which are in contact with each other by VHF radio.

The MV Akademik Shokalskiy has been stuck in pack ice since Christmas Day.

The 22 Russian crew members were intending to stay on board to wait for the pack ice to break up after the 52 passengers were rescued.

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