Passengers rescued from stranded ship

Passengers aboard the Akademik Shokalskiy are tonight being evacuated from the research ship that has been stuck in Antarctic sea ice for more than a week.

Expedition leader, Australian Professor Chris Turney, tweeted shortly before 7pm: "The Chinese helicopter has arrived @ the Shokalskiy. It's 100% we're off! A huge thanks to all."

He posted a video of the first chopper to reach the ship.

Earlier today the Australian Maritime Safety Authority announced the evacuation was expected to be delayed, but now a helicopter from Chinese ice breaker Xue Long has arrived to begin moving the 52 stricken passengers, including six New Zealanders.

They would be taken back to the Chinese ship 11km away, also known as the Snow Dragon, which had also become trapped in ice.

AP reported that the evacuation was expected to take about five hours, with a dozen people at a time choppered away from the Akademik Shokalskiy. Its crew of 22 Russians were expected to stay with the vessel, which was not in danger.

From the Xue Long, passengers would be transported a further 4km by barge to Australian icebreaker, Aurora Australis. They were then expected to travel to Tasmania, Australia, arriving by mid-January.

Earlier today Prof Turney posted a video to his Twitter feed showing him speaking to the camera in front of clear blue sky. "A stunning day. Hopefully we'll hear about the evacuation soon," he said.

This contrasted to Christmas Eve when, Prof Turney said the ice remained thick around the ship.

The six New Zealanders on board include ornithologist Kerry-Jayne Wilson, University of Auckland doctoral student Colin Tan, historians John and Barbara Tucker, and two chefs.

Despite being stuck, scientists on board continued their research, counting bird life in the area and drilling through ice to photograph sea life.

They were also served a traditional Christmas feast and held a secret Santa exchange of presents.

The Akademik Shokalskiy, a Russian research vessel, left Bluff in early December and got stuck on Christmas Day, 3000km southwest of Bluff.

The scientific team on board, led by scientists from the University of New South Wales, had been recreating Australian explorer Douglas Mawson's 1911 to 1913 voyage to Antarctica.


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