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Bad weather foils Antarctic ship rescue mission

© Photo: Andrew Peacock/AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-12-30

The latest attempt to reach a Russian ship stranded for a week off Antarctica was aborted Monday due to bad weather, rescuers said.

Australian icebreaker the Aurora Australis came within 10 nautical miles of the MV Akademik Shokalskiy, which has been stuck in an ice field with 74 people onboard since December 24.

But an Antarctic blizzard forced the ship to retreat to open waters about 18 nautical miles from the stranded vessel.

"Adverse weather conditions have resulted in the Australian Antarctic Division vessel Aurora Australis moving back into open water this afternoon," the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said.

"The area where the MV Akademik Shokalskiy is beset by ice is currently experiencing winds of up to 30 knots and snow showers.

"These weather conditions have resulted in poor visibility and made it difficult and unsafe for the Aurora Australis to continue today's attempt to assist the MV Akademik Shokalskiy."

The authority said further rescue attempts could be made by the Australian vessel once the weather improves.

Weather rules out air rescue

The Russian ship left New Zealand on November 28 on a private expedition to commemorate the 100th anniversary of an Antarctic journey led by famed Australian explorer Douglas Mawson.

It became trapped 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 Akademik Shokalskiy’s passengers include scientists and tourists, many of them Australian, and 22 Russian crew.

Last week, a Chinese icebreaker, the Snow Dragon, came in sight of the ship but its rescue attempt was halted by thick ice.

Authorities had hoped that a helicopter on board the Snow Dragon, which remains in the area, would be able to evacuate the passengers if the Aurora Australis was unsuccessful.

But AMSA said Monday it was also "unsafe to attempt to launch the helicopter from the Chinese vessel" given the weather.

Despite their ongoing wait for rescue, the Akademik Shokalskiy’s passengers remain safe and well on their well-provisioned vessel, AMSA said.

Chris Turney, one of the leaders of the scientific expedition, said there had been high winds early Monday, meaning communications had been limited.

"Set up tent on top deck. All well. Aurora making good progress. Waiting game," he tweeted.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

Date created : 2013-12-30

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