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April 16, 2014
Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Trapped ship passengers ring in 2014 in Antarctic ice

Passengers stretching their legs on a short excursion off the ship as they wait for the release of the ship MV Akademik Shokalskiy, which is trapped in the ice at sea off Antarctica

I's certainly a New Year's to remember for trapped tourists and scientists aboard a Russian ship in Antarctica.

Rather than the traditional 10-second countdown, they rang in 2014 with a song about their struggle. "1, 2, 1, 2, 3, We're the AAE who have traveled far, having fun doing science in Antarctica."

They've been stuck for eight days now. An Australian icebreaker failed to reach them Monday. Hopeful that a Chinese helicopter from a nearby ship can come to their rescue, they stomp away at the snow and ice to create a makeshift helipad. Rescuers plan to move all 52 passengers, many of them Australian, to the Chinese vessel, weather permitting. The Russian crew will stay on board.

The helicopter on board the Snow Dragon will be used after an Australian icebreaker on Monday failed to reach the trapped Akademik Shokalskiy, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) said on Tuesday.

But continuing blizzard conditions mean the rescue attempt will have wait.

"Weather conditions are unlikely to start improving until tomorrow and decisions related to carrying out the rescue may be made at short notice," it said.

The Russian ship left New Zealand on Nov. 28 on a private expedition to commemorate the 100th anniversary of an Antarctic journey led by famed Australian explorer Douglas Mawson.

It became trapped on Dec. 24 100 nautical miles east of French Antarctic station Dumont D'Urville and about 1,500 nautical miles south of Australia's southern island state of Tasmania.

The Akademik Shokalskiy's 74 passengers include scientists and tourists, many of them Australian, and 22 Russian crew.

Expedition leader Chris Turney said the last week had been "sobering" but morale was good.

"We are all keeping busy, with twice daily briefings outlining all the information we have to hand, alongside classes through the day (knot tying, languages, yoga, photography and many others) while the science programme has continued as best we can," he said on a blog for the expedition (www.spiritofmawson.com/)

Rescuers plan to move all of the 52 passengers from the ship to the Snow Dragon, with most crew members expected to stay on the Russian ship, AMSA said.

The Chinese ship got within sight of the Akademik Shokalskiy on Saturday, but turned back after failing to break the ice, which was more than 3 metres (10 feet) deep in places.

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Tags:  Antarctica  New Year  ship  Australia  


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