Cherie Howie

Cherie Howie is a reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

Stranded scientists keep working

Hopes of rescue dashed when ship finds ice too tough

The MV Akademik Shokalskiy, which is stuck in ice in Antarctica.
The MV Akademik Shokalskiy, which is stuck in ice in Antarctica.

Kiwi ornithologist Kerry-Jayne Wilson's fourth day stranded on a ship trapped by pack ice in Antarctica started with news that rescue could still be days away.

Wilson is one of 74 people - including five fellow Kiwis - stranded 3000km southwest of Bluff on the MV Akademik Shokalskiy, which struck heavy ice on Christmas Day.

Hopes of rescue were high on Friday after three ships responded to a call from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority and the Rescue Coordination Centre Australia, which are managing the rescue. The ship is stranded in waters that fall under Australian responsibility.

But the first ship to get close to the Akademik Shokalskiy, Chinese icebreaker Snow Dragon, was itself stopped by heavy ice 6.1 nautical miles short of the stuck vessel. Snow Dragon has an ice rating of about 1 metre.

Those on the stranded ship are mostly scientists travelling on a voyage retracing Sir Douglas Mawson's 1911 Antarctic expedition. A video posted to YouTube by expedition leader Chris Turney showed them celebrating the sight of the Snow Dragon on the horizon on Friday night.

News the first rescue attempt had been unsuccessful had been met with "general disappointment", Wilson said.

"Oh well ... spirits are still high, everyone is still well and happy as can be. We're just resigned to another few days of waiting. The other Kiwis are good - we just ask that you reassure people that we are okay."

Wilson said passengers, while frustrated, were not suffering.

Food was still plentiful and the two Kiwi cooks on board were "doing us proud", Wilson said.

"I can't remember what was for dinner last night, but we always have a choice of two mains and both are always wonderful. At Christmas we had a huge meal with entrees, wines, three roast meats and a wonderful choice of desserts."

Although she only had yoghurt and fruit for breakfast, the menu included bacon and eggs and porridge, she said.

Cabin fever had not set in, with the scientific observations and experiments continuing, lectures taking place and work on papers starting early.

"Normally we'd do that when we get back, so it's a wonderful chance to do this when we are all together."

The voyage, which began on December 8, had planned to end in Bluff on Saturday or Sunday.

Australian Maritime Safety Authority spokeswoman Andrea Hayward-Maher said the Aurora Australis, and Australian ship, is expected to arrive tonight.

- Herald on Sunday

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