Icebreaker expected to reach stranded Kiwis tonight

The Akademik Shokalskiy is trapped in pack ice 3,000km southwest of Bluff.
The Akademik Shokalskiy is trapped in pack ice 3,000km southwest of Bluff.

An icebreaker is expected to reach a stranded Antarctic research ship with six Kiwis on board late tonight.

The MV Akademik Shokalskiy has been stranded in heavy sea-ice with about 70 scientists and crew on board since Christmas morning.

Among the stranded passengers are six New Zealanders - ornithologist Kerry-Jayne Wilson, University of Auckland doctoral student Colin Tan, historians John and Barbara Tucker, and two chefs.

The Russian-flagged ice ship, which is stranded about 3000km southwest of New Zealand, left Bluff on December 8 on an expedition led by scientists from the University of New South Wales.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), which is co-ordinating the rescue, said last night it remained in regular contact with the vessel.

The ship was stable but had been experiencing very strong winds and limited visibility. The winds were forecast to ease today.

AMSA said three ships with icebreaking capabilities were en route to the vessel following a broadcast to shipping in the area.

The first of the vessels, the Chinese icebreaker Xue Long, was expected to arrive tonight.

The MV Akademik Shokalskiy is stranded in Australia's Antarctic search and rescue area, and the Australian Antarctic Division has sent its own vessel, the Aurora Australis.

Dr Wilson, from Charleston on the South Island's West Coast, told the New Zealand Herald via satellite phone yesterday that the crew had a "jolly Christmas'' and everyone was happy.

"Everyone is well and the ship is safe and we're in absolutely no danger at all.''

- APNZ

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