Winds, rain put Antarctic ship rescue on hold

1st January 2014, Comments 0 comments

Strong winds and rain prevented the helicopter rescue early Wednesday of passengers on a Russian ship stuck in ice off Antarctica, Australian authorities said as those onboard resigned themselves to a longer wait.

The Akademik Shokalskiy, carrying 74 passengers and crew, has not moved since it became trapped about 100 nautical miles east of the French base Dumont d'Urville on December 24.

Efforts to free it using icebreaking ships have failed, with the Australian government's supply ship Aurora Australis admitting Tuesday it was unable to reach the marooned vessel, forcing the more complex helicopter rescue.

"Rescue situation in Antarctic remains unchanged," the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) said in an update on Wednesday. "Helicopter unable to fly in current weather conditions. Raining in area & winds 20-30 knots."

Australian authorities, who are coordinating the rescue, plan to use the helicopter on board the Chinese-flagged icebreaker Xue Long to bring 52 passengers off the boat, leaving behind its 22 crew members.

They would then be taken by barge from the Xue Long to the Aurora Australis.

AMSA said the latest information was that the Chinese vessel was "moving and manoeuvring slowly around the ice", allaying fears that the Xue Long had itself become trapped.

"The Rescue Coordination Centre has no information indicating they are stuck in the ice at this time," spokeswoman Lisa Martin said.

Passengers on the stranded ship had been following in the footsteps of Australian Sir Douglas Mawson and his 1911-1914 expedition and they greeted the New Year with cheer, singing an anthem they wrote to ring in 2014.

Giving a rousing rendition from the top deck of the Akademik Shokalskiy in footage posted on YouTube, they sang of "having fun doing science in Antarctica", only to lament in the chorus the "bloody great shame we are still stuck here".

"Happy New Year," tweeted one of the expedition's leaders, Chris Turney early Wednesday.

"Warm, wet & windy with the AAE (Australasian Antarctic Expedition)," he said, adding the temperature was 1.5 degrees Celsius (35 degrees Fahrenheit).

"Poor visibility. Unlikely we're flying this morning."

The team on board has been carrying out the same scientific experiments that Mawson's group conducted during the 1911-1914 expedition in the hope they could help in climate change research.


© 2014 AFP

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