Antarctic Weather Hinders Ship Rescue

 Antarctic Weather Hinders Ship Rescue

Severe Antarctic weather has hindered the rescue of a ship. Antarctic ice trapped a 233-foot research vessel, the MV Akademic Shokalskiy, since Christmas Eve. High winds dislodged ice, packing it up against the ship, trapping it about 1,700 miles south of Hobart, Tasmania, near Cape de la Motte. The Australasian Antarctic Expedition is on board along with several scientist and tourists studying environmental changes of the last century.

Increasingly bad weather, high winds and snow have prevented any help from reaching the stranded vessel. The Aurora Australis, the second ship to attempt rescue of the 70 stranded people, found it impossible to reach the MV Akademic Shokalskiy which was trapped in ice slabs over 10 feet thick, according to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.

The icebreaker Aurora Australis wove a path through the ice until it was stopped about 10 miles from the MV Akademic Shokalskiy. Aurora crew members reported seeing cracks in the ice surrounding the bow of the stranded ship. Encouraged by the news that the ice was breaking up, stranded crew members created a video of their adventure and posted it on Twitter.

The cracking ice gave hope that the rescue team would be able to reach the stranded ship by 5:00 p.m. Sunday EST. New South Wales Professor Christopher Turney reported to NBC news via phone; he expected the arrival of the Aurora within a few hours.

74 scientists along with crew members and tourists waited aboard the MV Akademic Shokalskiy to be rescued by the icebreaker, but blowing snow hindered visibility and stalled rescue efforts, reported Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) at 7:00 p.m. EST.

The Aurora was the second rescue ship attempting to break through the ice. The Xue Long, a Chinese vessel, attempted early Saturday but was halted by the thick layers of ice. The ship has a helicopter on board and has stayed on location to fly the stranded people over to the Aurora, which would transport them to the Casey Station where they can take other ships back home. Turney reports everyone on board is in good health and spirits are high.

The expedition team comprised of graduate students, professors and tourists, left Bluff, New Zealand, on Dec. 8 for a month long trip. The MV Akademic Shokalskiy anchored beside the ice pack ten days later. Dr. Turney and his expedition group spent the day exploring Mawson’s hut, then set sail east, but as the ship turned north out into open water, the weather became horrendous. Strong winds blew ice into the ship’s patch, blocking her.

“It pegged us in,” Turney stated. “At first we were just two nautical miles from getting to open water, and now it’s 20.”

While it’s summer in the Antarctic, letting Mother Nature break up the ice is not feasible. According to Dr. Turney, the ship will continue to drift along as the ocean currents move the ice, creating the possibility of crashing into a glacier, crushing the hull of the ship.

The people on board have occupied their time in various ways. Some of the more adventurous have journeyed out onto the ice to study birds, make observations and continue with their exploration. Some have been attending classes on knot tying while others have been active on Twitter and Facebook sharing their adventures.

By: Deborah Baran

NY Times

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