Seventy four people spent Christmas aboard a cruise ship that has become stuck in the ice in a remote region off the coast of Antarctica and rescue vessels are at least two days away, according to Australian maritime officials. Three icebreakers are sailing to the rescue.
The Russian-operated Akademik Shokalskiy, an ice-strengthened vessel built in 1984 for oceanographic research, became stuck in the ice about 1,500 nautical miles from Hobart, Tasmania, and issued a satellite distress call early this morning, Andrea Hayward-Maher of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said.
“We’ve been in touch with the master of the vessel, who says they are beset by ice,” spokeswoman Hayward-Maher said. “They are basically trapped or stuck in the ice and can’t move.”
The ship is too far from land to send aircraft or normal rescue vessels, Hayward-Maher said. Three ships with ice-breaking capabilities in the region have “been tasked with helping,“ but they are all a two-day sail from the stuck vessel,” she added. “This is quite a complex and lengthy search-and-rescue operation because of the remote location of the area,” Hayward-Maher said.
The ship is in the Australian Search and Rescue region, 100 nautical miles east of the French base Dumont D’Urville. RCC Australia assumed coordination of the incident and issued a broadcast to icebreaking vessels in the area. The ship cruised to the site of a 1911-1914 expedition of British explorer Sir Douglas Mawson, according to Expeditions Online, a travel agency that sells tickets for the cruise.
The Guardian which has a reporter on board the ice trapped vessel sent this message: ”The nearest ship, the Chinese Xue Long (Snow Dragon), will take just over a day to reach the Shokalskiy's position, around 1,500 nautical miles from Hobart in Tasmania. A French ship called the Astrolabe, and sent out from the nearest Antarctic base, Dumont D'Urville, could arrive around the same time.
The furthest ship, also on its way, is the Australian icebreaker, Aurora Australis. The ship is no danger, said Chris Turney. We're currently in heavy ice and we need help to get out. It's frustrating – we're only two miles from open water. Everyone is well on board and morale is high. We've had a fantastic Christmas and the science programme has been continuing while we're stuck in position. The results looking really exciting. We're very fortunate the Chinese are in the area, passing relatively close by.
The Snow Dragon is a 166-metre-long icebreaker, cruising towards the Shokalskiy at 14.5 knots.
The Russian-built Shokalskiy left the port of Bluff in New Zealand on 8 December with 48 passengers and 20 crew members to follow in the footsteps of the great Antarctic explorer and scientist Douglas Mawson.
Led by the climate scientist Chris Turney of the University of New South Wales, the ship has been sailing through the Southern Ocean, repeating and extending many of Mawson's wildlife and weather observations in order to build a picture of how this part of the world has changed in the past 100 years”.