Icebreakers race to rescue ship trapped near Antarctica - KMSP-TV

Icebreakers race to rescue ship trapped near Antarctica

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A Chinese icebreaking ship racing toward Antarctica to rescue a Russian vessel that became stranded Christmas morning drew close to the icebound vessel on Friday.

The Russian ship MV Akademik Shokalskiy, which has been on a research expedition to Antarctica, got stuck Tuesday after a blizzard's whipping winds pushed the sea ice around the ship, freezing it in place.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority said it received a distress call Wednesday morning from the paralyzed vessel, which has 48 passengers on board and 20 crew members, according to The Guardian.

A spokeswoman from the agency said Wednesday that the icebreakers would take at least two days to reach the ship, but "the vessel isn't in any immediate danger."

By Friday afternoon, China's Snow Dragon had made it as far as the edge of the sea ice surrounding the ship, 12 miles away, but still faced the tough task of getting through the dense pack ice to the vessel.

The Snow Dragon was hoping to reach the ship by Friday evening, but changing weather conditions and the thickness of the ice could slow its progress, said Andrea Hayward-Maher, spokeswoman for the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, which is coordinating the rescue.

The Akademik Shokalskiy is currently near Stillwell Island, about 1,500 nautical miles south of Hobart, Tasmania.

The ship left New Zealand in early December on the Spirit of Mawson voyage, which is following in the footsteps of Douglas Mawson, the leader of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition of 1911. Half its passengers are tourists who are helping scientists on board with experiments, The Guardian reports.

"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," said climate scientist Chris Turney of the University of New South Wales.

Expedition leader Chris Turney said it may take the Snow Dragon until Saturday to break through.

"We're all just on tenterhooks at the moment, waiting to find out" how long it will take, Turney said by satellite phone. "Morale is really good."

The scientific team on board the vessel -- which left New Zealand on Nov. 28 -- had been recreating Australian explorer Douglas Mawson's century-old voyage to Antarctica when it became trapped. They plan to continue their expedition after they are freed, Turney said.

Passengers and crew have had to contend with blizzard conditions, including winds up to 40 miles per hour, but the weather had calmed considerably by Friday, Turney said.

"The blizzard we had yesterday was quite extraordinary -- it's not nice when you can feel the ship shaking," he said.

Despite the interruption to the expedition, the scientists have continued their research while stuck, counting birds in the area and drilling through the ice surrounding the ship to photograph sea life.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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