xue long icebreaker snow dragon

Thick Ice Forces Helicopter Rescue for Passengers of Ship Stuck Off Antarctica

Mike Schuler
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December 30, 2013

The Xue Long (Snow Dragon) Chinese icebreaker sits in the ice pack unable to get through to the MV Akademik Shokalskiy, in East Antarctica, December 28, 2013. Photo (c) REUTERS/Andrew Peacock

Thick ice and weather will prevent icebreakers from reaching the stricken MV Akademik Shokalskiy expedition ship stuck in ice off Antarctica, forcing a helicopter rescue for the passengers of the stricken vessel.

An update from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority’s (AMSA) Rescue Coordination Centre late Friday (1 PM AEDT) said that the Aurora Australis icebreaker will not be able to reach the ship, located just 16 nautical miles away, fearing that the icebreaker will itself get stuck.

Instead, the AMSA update says that a helicopter onboard the Chinese icebreaker, Xue Long, which is located 8.5 nautical miles northeast of the Shokalskiy, will be used to rescue the 52 passengers onboard the vessel. All 22 crewmembers will stay onboard the vessel, the AMSA update said.

Weather permitting, the helicopter will shuttle 12 passengers at a time to the Xue Long from an area for the helicopter to a makeshift helipad on the ice near the Shokalskiy. From there, the passengers will be transferred to the Aurora Australis, the AMSA says.

Weather, however, is currently preventing the helicopter from reaching the passengers and conditions are unlikely to start improving tomorrow, according to the AMSA.

The Aurora Australis made attempts Monday to reach the MV Akademik Shokalskiy, but was forced back into open waters due to adverse weather conditions, with winds up to 30 knots and snow showers resulting in poor visibility.

The Russian MV Akademik Shokalskiy left New Zealand on Nov. 28 on a private expedition and became trapped by ice on December 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 Shokalskiy’s 74 passengers include scientists and tourists, many of them Australian, and 22 Russian crew.

RCC Australia continues to coordinate the incident and is in regular contact with all vessels involved.


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