25 Dec 2013

Antarctic cruise ship passengers stranded

9:57 pm on 25 December 2013

About 70 people on an ship in the Antarctic are spending Christmas and Boxing Day awaiting rescue after the ship became wedged in thick sheets of sea ice.

The MV Akademik Shokalskiy wedged in thick sheets of sea ice.

The MV Akademik Shokalskiy wedged in thick sheets of sea ice. Photo: AAP

The Spirit of Mawson voyage on the MV Akademik Shokalskiy , which includes scientists, explorers and tourists, is trapped in Antarctic ice floes and awaiting rescue, AAP reports.

The ship is trapped 2676km south west of Bluff.

The MV Akademik Shokalskiy left New Zealand with about 50 passengers and 20 crew members to visit several sites along the edge of Antarctica.

She is an ice-strengthened ship, built in Finland in 1982, and was originally used for oceanographic research before being refurbished to operate as a passenger ship in both polar regions.

Mawson's Hut in Cape Denison.

Mawson's Hut in Cape Denison. Photo: AAP

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) received a distress call on Wednesday morning, notifying the rescue co-ordination centre that the ship was trapped and would need help.

It is not known how long the ship has been trapped but the authority says everyone is safe.

AMSA spokesperson Andrea Hayward-Maher says three vessels have been sent to assist the ship, which is about 1500 nautical miles south of Hobart.

Ms Hayward-Maher says it will take at least two days for the nearest vessel to reach them.

The voyage is part of a research expedition to commemorate the centenary of Douglas Mawson's exploration.

The privately funded expedition intends to return to Mawson's Huts, which have been inaccessible for many years because of an iceberg.

New Zealand's rescue coordination centre is not involved in the rescue, with the ship closer to Hobart than here.