Australian icebreaker heading to ship trapped in Antarctic sea ice
Published Sunday, December 29, 2013 3:20PM EST
The day after two other ships were forced to cut their rescue missions short, an Australian icebreaker is en route to a Russian research vessel that has been trapped in ice since Christmas.
The Australian icebreaker Aurora Australis is making its way towards the Akademik Shokalskiy, a Russian ship that has been stuck in Antarctic sea ice since it became trapped on Christmas Day.
The ship, which left New Zealand on Nov. 28 on a scientific expedition tracking the route taken by Australian explorer Douglas Mawson, has approximately 74 scientists, tourists and crew members aboard. It is said to be packed with several weeks’ worth of supplies.
On Saturday, Chinese icebreaker Snow Dragon was just 11 kilometres away from the Akademik Shokalskiy when it was forced to turn back due to heavy ice.
French rescue vessel L’Astrolable also called off its mission after failing to break through the ice Saturday.
The Aurora Australis is currently 28 nautical miles away from the ice-bound ship and waiting for weather conditions to clear before it can move ahead.
Officials say the Australian ship has the best chance of reaching the vessel as milder temperatures begin to crack some of surrounding ice.
Dr. Andrew Peacock, a researcher stranded onboard the Akademik Shokalskiy, told CTV News Channel that, while passengers on board are anxious to be recused, they remain in high spirits.
“It’s very much a waiting game here, but people are remaining positive, keeping themselves busy and morale is high awaiting the arrival of the Aurora Australis, and by then we’ll have a much better idea of what the outcome is going to be out here,” he said.
Peacock said the past few days have been an emotional roller coaster for many onboard as they watched the various icebreakers attempt and fail to reach their stranded ship.
“It’s certainly frustrating, no question about that. When the visibility is good, we can clearly see the Chinese icebreaker and earlier today they actually did send up their helicopter to do a reconnaissance of the surrounding area. That was heart-warming to see the helicopters fly low across the ship and the passengers here were excited and waving and hopeful that they would find a lead in the ice that perhaps had been missed so far, but the feedback we got was not that reassuring,” he said.
The Chinese ship has remained in the area to provide support and is prepared to rescue passengers via helicopter if needed.
Despite the recent set-backs, Peacock says the crew is taking advantage of their predicament as they patiently await rescue.
“I’m talking to you from the top deck of the ship and looking out at a 360 [degree] expanse of jumble ice as far as the eye can see, it really is like the ship has been dropped in the middle of a glacier somewhere up in the mountains,” he said.
Peacock says weather conditions have improved in the area and hopes rescuers will have a better chance to break through the ice on Sunday.
“Today was a bit warmer and there are some cracks appearing that were not here yesterday, so that’s a good sign,” he said.
Officials say details surrounding the rescue mission will be worked out when the Aurora Australis arrives in the area.