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2nd icebreaker fails to reach ship trapped at Antarctica

SYDNEY, Dec. 30 (UPI) —

An Australian icebreaker vessel fighting an Antarctic blizzard Monday stopped trying to reach a trapped Russian ship carrying 74 people, rescuers said.

"Adverse weather conditions have resulted in the Aurora Australis moving back into open water this afternoon," the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said in a Twitter message.

The Australis got to about 10 nautical miles, or about 11.5 geographical miles, from the trapped ship before going out to open water, the agency, which is coordinating the rescue, said in a separate statement.

AMSA didn’t say if the icebreaker would be able to try again.

The Australis is the second icebreaker to try and fail to reach the ship.

The Chinese vessel the Xue Long, or Snow Dragon, had to quit Saturday when it hit ice up to 17 feet thick.

Passengers aboard the 233-foot Akademik Shokalskiy, stuck in the ice off the coast of Antarctica since Christmas Eve, were told they may have to be evacuated by air, Britain’s Guardian newspaper reported.

The newspaper has two reporters on the Shokalskiy.

But AMSA said it was unsafe to try that, at least for now.

The planned air rescue was to have come from the Snow Dragon, Greg Mortimer, co-leader of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition, which chartered the ship, told the 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," he said.

But AMSA said it was currently "unsafe to attempt to launch the helicopter from the Chinese vessel."

The passengers — made up of about 25 professors and graduate students and 20 tourists — as well as 22 Russian crew members, are safe, Mortimer told the Guardian.

But that could change if an iceberg began moving toward the ship, he said. The nearest icebergs were several miles away.

If one came close, the Shokalskiy would have a day or two’s notice to carry out any emergency evacuation, the Guardian said.

The Shokalskiy, a 233-foot, ice-strengthened ship, got stuck in a blizzard a bit more than two weeks into a monthlong expedition to trace the steps of Australian geologist Douglas Mawson on the 102nd anniversary of his December 1911 antarctic expedition during the southernmost continent’s so-called heroic age of exploration.

The ship left Bluff, New Zealand’s southernmost town, Dec. 8. Bluff is the same town Mawson left Dec. 2, 1911.

Mawson experienced a blizzard too.

The ship is stuck in thick ice floes at a small, steep rocky island near Cape de la Motte, about 115 miles east of the French Antarctic scientific Dumont d’Urville Station, where the 2005 documentary "March of the Penguins" was filmed, and about 1,700 miles south of Hobart, Australia, the Tasmanian capital.

The scientists and tourists sought to repeat and extend many of Mawson’s wildlife and weather observations in the hope of building a picture of how parts of the Antarctic Circle have changed in the past century.

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