On Monday, there was another setback for the latest rescue mission of the Russian research ship, Akademik Shokalskiy, trapped in the ice off the coast of Antarctica since Christmas Eve.
The Australian icebreaker vessel, the Aurora Australis was forced to retreat as the worsening blizzard made it too perilous for the rescue ship to continue, according to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority. The Australis came close, within 10 nautical miles, before it had to go back out to open water. This is the second attempt by an icebreaker to free the stranded ship. The Chinese vessel Xue Long, or Snow Dragon, was thwarted on Saturday when it encountered ice 17-feet thick.
As a result of the storm, all rescue missions are on hold, including a plan for passengers to be evacuated by helicopter. Greg Mortimer, co-leader of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition, which chartered the ship, told Britain’s Guardian newspaper, “That would happen by the Chinese vessel sending their helicopter to us, us preparing a helipad on the ice next to the ship and flying passengers from that ice onto the other vessels. Then taking them home via the Ross Sea or [Australian Antarctic base] Casey base by ship.” The planned air rescue was to be carried out by the Snow Dragon.
According to the Guardian, the passengers consist of about 25 professors and graduate students, 20 tourists and 22 Russian crew members. As of now all passengers are safe, but that could change suddenly with the encroachment of an iceberg in the direction of the stuck ship. At this point, the nearest ice bergs are several miles away. Nevertheless, spirits and morale remain high among passengers and as the weather improves new rescue efforts will be underway.