Icebreakers are rushing to the aid of a Russian research and tourist ship trapped by sea ice in Antarctica, while scientists abroad the vessel are using the extra time to conduct additional research on the ice-covered continent.
MV Akademik Shokalskiy, which has about 50 passengers -- half of them tourists and the other half scientists -- and 20 crew on board, sent a distress call on Christmas morning after it became stuck in a pack of ice about 1,500 nautical miles south of the Australian island of Tasmania.
The ship began its month-long expedition to replicate Antarctic explorer and scientist Douglas Mawson’s Australasian Antarctic Expedition of 1911, on Dec. 8. The journey, which began from Bluff in New Zealand reached Mawson's Hut at Cape Denison in east Antarctica's Commonwealth Bay last Thursday, and was heading toward Mertz glacier, when it was trapped by sea ice.
Now, three ships with ice-breaking capabilities are heading toward the Shokalskiy but none of them are expected to reach her before Friday. The nearest rescue ship, China’s Xue Long, is expected to reach by Friday morning, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, or AMSA, which is coordinating the search and rescue operation, said in a statement.
AMSA said the passengers in the trapped vessel are not in danger, but are having a tough time dealing with strong winds and limited visibility. The other two ships -- the Australian Antarctic Division and Aurora Australis -- are also on their way to the area.
"According to reports, nobody is in present danger and three nearby icebreakers are being sent to assist," Expeditions Online, which is managing the voyage, said on its website. "The ship is reinforced against ice and well adapted to the conditions," Alvin Stone, a spokesman for the voyage operator, said. "It's just stuck in ice. There's no danger at all."
The ship's crew is also hoping to get the ship to break free if the weather cooperates.
"The crew is waiting for the wind to change; the easterly wind, which is blowing now, prevents the ice from moving. There may be a clearing in the ice if the wind turns westerly and the ship will break free from the ice trap on its own," a representative of the Far Eastern Hydrometeorological Research Institute, the owner of the ship, told Interfax on Thursday.
Meanwhile, the scientists abroad the ship are using the extra time from the unexpected delay to carry out additional research to study the state of ice and water around the stranded ship.
“We're making the best possible use of our unscheduled stop to take extra measurements in the area and build on our scientific work program,” Chris Turney, a climate scientist with the University of New South Wales, who is leading the expedition, told The Guardian.
“We're undertaking further measurements of the saltiness and temperature of the waters below us to see how much change there has been over the past century – since Douglas Mawson's time, a century ago,” he added.