Yves Frenot, the director of the French Polar Institute, waxed apoplectic over the Russian ship Akademik Shokalskiy’s “commemorative expedition” that was trapped in the ice of Antarctica on December 24 for the damage it did to the plans of other scientists in their study of Antarctica.
Frenot was not condemning the rescue of those stuck on the ship, but the issue of the ship’s expedition itself, calling the ship’s voyage a “pseudo-scientific expedition” that ruined the plans of French, Chinese and Australian scientific missions.
Frenot said bitingly, “There’s no reason to place Antarctica off-limits and to keep it just for scientists, but this tourism has to be monitored and regulated so that operators can be sure of getting help if need be.” The 52 passengers were rescued by a helicopter from the Chinese icebreaker, the Xue Long, but now the Chinese ship is trapped in the ice, too. On Thursday, the passengers were airlifted to the Australian government supply vessel, the Aurora Australis, and now the Australian ship may be held there to rescue the Chinese ship.
Frenot is also furious because a French Antarctic vessel, the Astrolabe, was sidelined from its usual mission of resupplying Dumont d’Urville, a French scientific station, so that it could help in the rescue. Such resupply missions can only take place between October and March. There are roughly 80 scientific bases in Antarctica; Frenot said, “If we want these bases to operate all year round, it is essential to resupply [them] with food and fuel during the brief window of opportunity.” He added that to divert supply ships in order to help the Russian vessel “imperiled” that task.
In addition, the French scientists aboard sacrificed a two-week oceanographic campaign in order to help the beleaguered Russian vessel. Frenot said, “But we are relatively lucky. The Chinese have had to cancel all their scientific programme, and my counterpart in Australia is spitting tacks with anger, because their entire summer has been wiped out.”
The Akademik Shokalskiy’s stated purpose was to recreate the 1911-1914 expedition led by the Australian Sir Douglas Mawson. Frenot ripped this idea, saying, “This kind of commemorative expedition has no interest from a scientific point of view.”