30 Dec 2013

Blizzard hampers research ship rescue

10:16 pm on 30 December 2013

An Australian ice-breaker gave up trying to reach a Russian ship stuck in Antarctic sea ice on Monday as bad weather hampered rescue efforts.

The Akademik Shokalskiy, which is carrying scientists, tourists and journalists, including six New Zealanders, has been stranded in thick pack ice near Commonwealth Bay, about 1500 nautical miles south of Tasmania, since 24 December.

The Akademik Shokalskiy has been trapped since Christmas Eve.

The Akademik Shokalskiy has been trapped since Christmas Eve. Photo: AFP / Andrew Peacock / www.footloosefotography.com

The Aurora Australis managed to smash through about nine nautical miles of ice on Monday, before being forced to turn back as a blizzard set in.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority is co-ordinating the rescue and said the area is experiencing winds of up to 30 knots snow showers. The conditions have resulted in poor visibility and made it difficult and unsafe for the ice-breaker to continue its attempt to assist the Akademik Shokalskiy.

The Aurora Australis is now in open waters about 17 nautical miles east of the Russian ship. The authority said another attempt to reach it may be made once weather conditions improve.

Expedition spokesperson Alvin Stone said those on board the Akademik Shokalskiy are not worried about spending Tuesday night on the ice, the ABC reports.

"They've got a good two weeks of fresh food and if that runs out, they've got another two weeks of dehydrated food. So I suspect New Year's Eve will still be a pretty good time."

Earlier, passenger Nicole de Losa posted an online video, saying spirits remain high.

"We've been dancing on the ice, apparently this afternoon we're going to have some singing on the ice, which should be fantastic as well. But it's absolutely spectacular here - it's like this magical winter wonderland."

The maritime authority said on Monday if the Aurora Australis is unable to reach the Akademik Shokalskiy, it is likely that a helicopter on nearby Chinese ice-breaker Xue Long (Snow Dragon) will be used.

The Russian ship left New Zealand on 28 November on a private expedition to commemorate the 100th anniversary of an Antarctic journey led by Australian explorer Douglas Mawson and is well stocked with food.