The Antarctica ship MV Akademik Shokalskiy is still trapped in the frozen waters of Antarctica after two rescue attempts failed early Monday. The Australian icebreaker Aurora Australis was unable to reach the stranded ship due to poor visibility and thick ice surrounding the trapped 233-foot Russian vessel, forcing the icebreaker to return to open sea. Also, according to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), another icebreaker tried to reach the distressed ship Saturday. The Chinese vessel, Xue Long, tried to get close to the trapped Russian vessel but was also prevented due to thick ice in the area.
The MV Akademik Shokalskiy is a scientific research ship carrying 22 scientists, 22 Russian crew, 26 tourists and four British journalists. It was trapped some 100 nautical miles east of a French Antarctic station and about 1,500 nautical miles south of Tasmania, the Australian island state, last Christmas Eve. According to an official of AMSA, the trapped passengers have sufficient food supplies to last for weeks and there are no known medical emergencies on board.
Professor Chris Turney from the University of New South Wales is the expedition leader. He had communicated Sunday that due to warmer temperatures of 36F (2C), the ice around the ship began to crack, which would allow the ship’s movement. Monday, the heavy weather returned, forcing the rescue attempt of the Australian icebreaker to be put on hold. Taking to Twitter, Turney shared, “Everyone well. Looking forward to seeing loved ones soon.”
With the icebreaker ships getting close to the trapped research vessel not seen as a possibility in the short-term, the next option would be sending the 15-person capacity helicopter aboard the Chinese icebreaker to make the rescue. Currently, the passengers of the trapped vessel are preparing a makeshift helipad on the ice for this rescue. As long as the weather remains clear and stable, the helicopter rescue can shuttle passengers and bring them to the Aurora Australis. Also, based on the plan, some of the Russian crew would remain to try to salvage the trapped ship.
Another option for the rescue attempt is the use of the huge American icebreaker Polar Star, which is currently on the way to the Ross Sea from Seattle, WA. The ship has been given instructions to assist in the rescue efforts and could be on site in eight or nine days from now.
The captains of the two icebreakers and the captain of the research vessel have no other option than to wait for the weather to clear before making any more rescue attempts. According to authorities, the weather forecast for the next few days is still the same heavy snow and strong winds.
The scientific research vessel was already two weeks in its four-week journey. Its main objective was to follow the path of the great Antarctic explorer Sir Douglas Mawson had initiated a century ago. The journey started in New Zealand and will end in the Commonwealth Bay in East Antarctica. The researchers aboard the MV Shokalskiy will try to repeat Sir Mawson’s observations of the wildlife, weather and ocean of the area and will try to compare what has changed over the past 100 years since the study was first attempted.
Turney said it was not the storm that trapped the research ship, but the massive sea ice that blocked the ship’s path. Initial estimates indicate that a huge iceberg called B09B grounded itself in the entrance to Commonwealth Bay. B09B effectively blocked the sea ice that should be going out to the sea and instead froze the sea ice in its current place. In 2010, this huge iceberg broke away from the Antarctic continent.
With the weather not improving anytime soon, the trapped Antarctica ship may still have to wait for several more days before another round of rescue attempts can be safely undertaken. Two failed rescue attempts have been logged already, but authorities will try again until all passengers are safe and sound.
By Roberto I. Belda