Ship stuck in Antarctic ice ‘almost free’

The ship MV Akademik Shokalskiy is trapped in the ice at sea off Antarctica. Picture: Andrew Peacock
The ship MV Akademik Shokalskiy is trapped in the ice at sea off Antarctica. Picture: Andrew Peacock
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A SHIP that has been trapped in thick Antarctic ice since Christmas Eve was nearing rescue yesterday, after a Chinese icebreaker named the Snow Dragon drew close to the icebound vessel.

The Russian ship MV Akademik Shokalskiy, which has been on a research expedition to Antarctica, got stuck on Tuesday after a blizzard’s whipping winds pushed the sea ice around the ship, freezing it in place.

The ship was not in danger of sinking, and there were enough supplies for the 74 scientists, tourists and crew on board, but the vessel could not move.

Maritime authorities received the ship’s distress signal on Wednesday and sent three icebreakers to assist. By yesterday afternoon, China’s Snow Dragon had made it as far as the edge of the sea ice surrounding the ship, 12 miles away, but still faced the tough task of getting through the dense pack ice to the paralysed vessel.

The Snow Dragon was hoping to reach the ship by last night, but changing weather conditions and the thickness of the ice could slow its progress, said Andrea Hayward-Maher, spokeswoman for the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, which is co-ordinating the rescue.

Expedition leader Chris Turney said it may take the Snow Dragon until today to break through.

“We’re all just on tenterhooks at the moment, waiting to find out how long it will take,” Mr Turney said by satellite phone. “Morale is really good.”

The scientific team on board the vessel – which left New Zealand on 28 November – had been recreating Australian explorer Douglas Mawson’s century-old voyage to Antarctica when it became trapped.

They plan to continue their expedition after they are freed, Mr Turney said.

Passengers and crew have had to contend with blizzard conditions, including winds up to 40 miles per hour, but the weather became calmer yesterday.

“The blizzard we had on Thursday was quite extraordinary – it’s not nice when you can feel the ship shaking,” Mr Turney said.

Despite the interruption to the expedition, the scientists have continued their research while stuck, counting birds in the area and drilling through the ice surrounding the ship to photograph sea life.