All 52 passengers aboard a research ship icebound in the Antarctic for more than a week have been rescued by a Chinese helicopter and taken to an Australian polar icebreaker, maritime authorities said Thursday. The 22 crew members of the Russian-flagged MV Akademik Shokalskiy remain on board the ship, which has been stranded since December 24, about 2,800 kilometres south of Hobart, Tasmania.
A helicopter rescue was the last option left for the passengers after French, Chinese and then Australian icebreakers failed to smash through more than 20 kilometres of pack ice to free the Shokalskiy. The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) said the helicopter from the Snow Dragon, a Chinese research vessel, set down passengers directly on an ice floe adjacent to the Aurora Australis rather than following the initial plan of landing on the Chinese ship and then ferrying the passengers by barge to the Aurora. “Aurora Australis has advised AMSA that the 52 passengers from the Akademik Shokalskiy are now on board,” the agency said in a tweet.
The Aurora is less than 4 kilometres from the Snow Dragon and the Shokalskiy about 22 kilometres away. The passengers aboard the Shokalskiy were lifted off in groups of 12. The 22 Russian crew members will stay with the trapped vessel in the hope that a change in wind direction will allow it to get back under way under its own steam. Failing that, a larger icebreaker could be brought in to free it.
Of the 52 passengers, 26 were tourists paying for a place on an expedition tracing the journey Australian explorer Douglas Mawson made 100 years ago. The ship left last month from New Zealand and were expected to return this month. It was around 2 kilometres from open water when it got stuck on Christmas Eve.