Passengers onboard a ship stuck in ice off Antarctica were yesterday placing their hopes in an Australian icebreaker hurrying to their remote location, after a Chinese icebreaker failed to free them.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), which is coordinating the rescue of the Russian passenger ship Akademik Shokalskiy, said the icebreaker came within 6.5 nautical miles (12km) of the ship, but had to stop.
“The Chinese vessel unfortunately encountered some heavy ice that it’s not capable of breaking through,” AMSA spokeswoman Andrea Hayward-Maher said. “The rescue ... unfortunately has stalled.”
The Russian ship, with 74 scientists, tourists and crew on board, has been trapped in ice about 100 nautical miles east of the French base Dumont d’Urville since Tuesday.
The Chinese vessel came tantalizingly close to the stranded ship, but it was forced to turn back to open sea once it realized it could not break through.
Passengers are now waiting for the arrival, expected today, of Australia’s Antarctic resupply ship Aurora Australis, which has the highest icebreaking rating of the three vessels originally asked to respond.
It is not yet clear whether the Aurora Australis will be able to go any further than the Chinese vessel, the Snow Dragon.
“We all know that there’s a possibility of this becoming quite a protracted sit and wait,” said Andrew Peacock, a passenger onboard the Akademik Shokalskiy, speaking via satellite phone.
Peacock said while there was an element of frustration at the turn of events, passengers had been delighted the Chinese ship had been able to get close to their remote location as quickly as it did.
“It certainly tried hard,” Peacock said.
AMSA said yesterday it was “assessing options” regarding the rescue of the Russian ship, which is approximately 1500 nautical miles south of the southern Australian city of Hobart.
“A helicopter equipped, Chinese-flagged vessel remains in the vicinity to assist if necessary,” it said in a statement.
The Akademik Shokalskiy is carrying scientists and tourists who are following the Antarctic path of explorer Douglas Mawson a century ago and Peacock, the expedition’s doctor, said the work was continuing.
Those onboard have been carrying out the same scientific experiments Mawson’s team conducted during the 1911 to 1914 Australian Antarctic Expedition — the first large-scale Australian-led scientific expedition to the frozen continent.
The group, which includes Australians, New Zealanders and Britons, became stuck when unexpected weather forced their ship into heavy ice. An intense blizzard appears to have increased the buildup of ice around them.
They have been onboard for three weeks and had planned to return to New Zealand by early next month.
Peacock said the ship was well supplied and all the passengers were comfortable.
“The beer is running low,” he added jokingly.