DECEMBER 31, 2013 — Members of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition 2013-2014 spent their New Year's Eve tramping down the ice (while singing Auld Lang Syne) to make a makeshift helipad. Their chartered expedition ship, MV Akademik Shokalski, has been stuck in ice some 1,500 miles south of Hobart, Tasmania, with 74 people aboard, since December 24.
Efforts to free the ship have proven unsuccessful.
The Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) vessel Aurora Australis today told the Australian Maritime Safety Authority's Rescue Coordination Center that it would not be able to reach the MV Akademik Shokalskiy.
The Aurora Australis advised RCC Australia it would be at risk of becoming beset by ice itself if it continued to make further rescue attempts.
The Aurora Australis made attempts yesterday to reach the MV Akademik Shokalskiy but was driven back into open waters due to adverse weather conditions such as winds up to 30 knots and snow showers resulting in poor visibility. The ship is currently located about 16 nautical miles east of the Russian vessel.
The helicopter on board the Chinese flagged icebreaker Xue Long will now be used to rescue the passengers from the MV Akademik Shokalskiy.
This rescue will be a complex operation involving a number of steps and subject to factors such as weather.
AMSA said today, in an update released at 1.00 p.m. AEDT:
"The helicopter is unable to fly in the current weather conditions, and will hold off on the rescue until conditions improve. Weather conditions are unlikely to start improving until tomorrow and decisions related to carrying out the rescue may be made at short notice.
In preparation for the rescue, an area for the helicopter to land has been marked on the ice near the MV Akademik Shokalskiy.
"RCC Australia has been advised that all 52 passengers will leave the MV Akademik Shokalskiy. All 22 crew members are expected to remain with the vessel."
The passengers are expected to be rescued by helicopter in groups of 12 and will be initially transported to the Xue Long. The Aurora Australis will then use its barge to transfer all 52 passengers on board their vessel. The barge can take up to 22 people at a time.