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Rescue delayed for icebound ship in Antarctica

Antarctica Icebound Ship

In this Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2013 image provided by Australasian Antarctic Expedition/Footloose Fotography, passengers from the Russian ship MV Akademik Shokalskiy trapped in the ice 1,500 nautical miles south of Hobart, Australia, walk around the ice. Passengers on board a research ship that has been trapped in Antarctic ice for a week are expected to be rescued by helicopter, after three icebreakers failed to reach the paralyzed vessel, officials said Tuesday. (AP Photo/Australasian Antarctic Expedition/Footloose Fotography, Andrew Peacock) EDITORIAL USE ONLY

By
From page A6 | January 02, 2014 | 3 Comments

CANBERRA, Australia — The latest attempt to rescue passengers on board a research ship that has been trapped in Antarctic ice for more than a week was delayed again Thursday after sea ice prevented a barge from reaching one of the rescue vessels.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority’s Rescue Coordination Centre, which is handling the operation, said earlier on Thursday that weather conditions had improved and rescue flights were expected to commence. A helicopter was expected to airlift passengers to a Chinese icebreaker, the Snow Dragon, and a barge would then ferry them to a nearby Australian vessel.

But before the rescue operation could begin, sea ice had blocked the path of the barge that needed to make it from the Australian vessel, the Aurora Australis, to the Snow Dragon. Because the Aurora isn’t built to handle a helicopter landing, it appeared unlikely that the passengers would be rescued Thursday, the maritime authority said.

“This rescue is a complex operation involving a number of steps. Operations in Antarctica are all weather and ice dependent and conditions can change rapidly,” the agency said in a statement.

The rescue operation for the 74 scientists, tourists and crew on the Russian ship MV Akademik Shokalskiy has been plagued by one delay after another since the vessel became stuck on Christmas Eve. Three icebreakers were initially dispatched to try and crack their way through the thick ice surrounding the ship, but all failed. The Aurora came within 20 kilometers (12 miles) of the ship Monday, but fierce winds and snow forced it to retreat to open water.

Officials had been planning on Thursday to use a helicopter on board the Snow Dragon – which is waiting at the edge of the ice pack with the Aurora – to rescue 52 scientists and tourists, a dozen at a time, over five hours. All 22 crew members are expected to stay with their icebound vessel, which is not in danger.

The passengers were then supposed to be flown 11 kilometers (7 miles) to the Chinese ship, from where they would be transported 4 kilometers (2 miles) by barge to the Australian icebreaker. They were then expected to travel to the Australian island state of Tasmania, arriving by mid-January.

Earlier Thursday, it appeared likely the rescue would go ahead, with expedition leader Chris Turney posting a video on his Twitter account, blue sky visible behind him.

“A stunning day,” he said on the video. “Hopefully we’ll hear about the evacuation soon.”

The Akademik Shokalskiy, which left New Zealand on Nov. 28, got stuck Christmas Eve after a blizzard pushed the sea ice around the ship, freezing it in place about 2,700 kilometers (1,700 miles) south of Hobart, Tasmania. The ship isn’t in danger of sinking and has weeks’ worth of supplies on board, but it cannot move.

The scientific team on board had been recreating Australian explorer Douglas Mawson’s 1911 to 1913 voyage to Antarctica. Turney had hoped to continue the trip if an icebreaker managed to free the ship.

The Associated Press

The Associated Press

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Discussion | 3 comments

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  • Rich GiddensJanuary 02, 2014 - 10:55 am

    The news media isn't telling you the most important fact about the passengers of this ship----THEY ARE GLOBAL WARMING BELIEVERS AND PROPONENTS. They believe that the polar ice caps have melted and now ironically they know the truth---but the news media doesn't want to inform you.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Mr. PracticalJanuary 02, 2014 - 5:33 pm

    I say just let them sit tight until global warming melts the ice.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Rich GiddensJanuary 02, 2014 - 11:12 am

    98 percent of network news reports about the stranded researchers failed to mention their global warming mission at all. Forty out of 41 stories (97.5 percent) on the network morning and evening news shows since Dec. 25 failed to mention climate change had anything to do with the expedition. In fact, rather than point out the mission was to find evidence of climate change, the networks often referred to the stranded people as “passengers,” “trackers” and even “tourists,” without a word about climate change or global warming.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
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