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Winds, rain halt Antarctic ship rescue

01 January 2014, 12:53

Sydney - Strong winds and rain prevented the helicopter rescue of passengers on a Russian ship stuck in ice off Antarctica on Wednesday, Australian authorities said, as those onboard rang in the New Year with a sing-song from the deck.

The Akademik Shokalskiy, carrying 74 passengers and crew, has not moved since it became trapped about 100 nautical miles east of the French base Dumont d'Urville on 24 December.

Efforts to free it using icebreaking ships have failed, with the Australian government's supply ship Aurora Australis admitting on Tuesday it was unable to reach the marooned vessel, forcing the more complex helicopter rescue.

"Rescue situation in Antarctic remains unchanged," the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) said in an update on Wednesday. "Helicopter unable to fly in current weather conditions. Raining in area and winds 20-30 knots."

Australian authorities, who are co-ordinating the rescue, plan to use the helicopter on board the Chinese-flagged icebreaker Xue Long to bring 52 passengers off the boat, leaving behind its 22 crew members.

They would then be taken by barge from the Xue Long to the Aurora Australis.

AMSA said the latest information was that the Chinese vessel was "moving and manoeuvring slowly around the ice", allaying fears that the Xue Long had itself become trapped.

Passengers on the stranded ship had been following in the footsteps of Australian Sir Douglas Mawson and his 1911-1914 expedition and they greeted the New Year with cheer, singing an anthem they wrote to ring in 2014.

Giving a rousing rendition from the top deck of the Akademik Shokalskiy in footage posted on YouTube, they sang of "having fun doing science in Antarctica", only to lament in the chorus the "bloody great shame we are still stuck here".

One of the expedition's leaders Chris Turney, who said he welcomed the New Year with a glass of sparkling Australian wine, said composing the song had helped keep up spirits on the vessel.

"It was rather amazing actually," he told AFP via Skype from his remote location. "We set this tent up on top of the deck. It was very cosy. There was a lot of excitement.

"It was just what the team needed, letting their hair down for a bit and forgetting about their worries and concerns."



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