UK & World News

  • 28 December 2013, 17:24

Antarctic Ship Rescue Blocked By Wall Of Ice

A Chinese icebreaker forced to abandon its attempt to rescue a stranded vessel off Antarctica is waiting for reinforcements.

The Snow Dragon came within seven miles of the Academic Shokalskiy - a ship carrying 74 people, including scientists and some tourists - but had to turn back after the ice became too thick.

The Russian ship has been trapped off Antarctica's Commonwealth Bay since Christmas Eve.

It is being used by the Australian Antarctic Expedition to try to follow in the footsteps of explorer Douglas Mawson.

Expedition leader Professor Chris Turney told Sky News he is still hopeful they will be rescued soon.

"It (The Snow Dragon) was making great progress ... averaging two to four knots and over the night it just couldn't keep that speed up," said Professor Turney.

"It was basically just beating itself against a wall of ice. I can still see it, it is hanging in station, just off the starboard bow about seven nautical miles away.

"But it's basically waiting now for one of the other icebreaker vessels, the Australian vessel Aurora Australis, to come and help support.

"Together the two - we're hoping - will be able to break in."

The Aurora Australis - which has the highest icebreaking rating of the three vessels originally asked to respond - is expected to reach the ship on Sunday.

However, it is not certain whether it will be able to get any closer than the Chinese effort.

The Snow Dragon's rescue attempt was halted for the crew's "own safety", an Australian Maritime Safety Authority official said.

Professor Turney told Sky News that the Academic Shokalskiy had first got into difficulty after satellite data showed their route onward would be safe but that a rapid change in the weather had left them surrounded by ice.

He said: "By the end of the day, the wind had picked up and the sea ice was moving around a lot and, in spite of the captain's best efforts, we realised we just couldn't get through.

"On Christmas Eve, he made the call, and issued the alert for help."

Professor Turney said the scientists on board the Shokalskiy have been taking readings and measurements so they can be compared with those taken by Mawson and his team in 1913.

Although Mawson, who was knighted later for leading his expedition, never reached the South Pole, he carried out important research and explored previously unknown lands.

The ship - which includes Britons, Australians and New Zealanders - had planned to return to New Zealand by early January.

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