Matthew Theunissen

Matthew Theunissen is a reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

Leader of ill-fated Antarctic Expedition apologises

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

The leader of the ill-fated Australasian Antarctic Expedition has apologised for the inconvenience caused to rescuers, while authorities estimate the bill could reach $2.6m.

Fifty-two passengers, including six New Zealanders, arrived in Hobart today nearly a month after the research vessel Akademik Shokalskiy became stuck in thick sea ice in Antarctica.

In total, four ships from four countries were involved in the rescue mission after the Russian-flagged Akademik Shokalskiy became trapped on Christmas Eve.

At a press conference in Hobart today, expedition leader Chris Turney apologised to rescuers for the disruption that had been caused, Radio New Zealand reported.

"We are terribly sorry for any impact that might have had on fellow colleagues whose work has been delayed in the operation. But any experienced Antarctic scientist knows that's an inherent risk.

"Many of our team members have actually been on the other side where they've supported teams when they've been caught."

Australian Antarctic Division director Dr Tony Fleming told Radio New Zealand he estimated the total cost of the response would be AUS$1.8m to AUS$2.4m (NZD$1.9m to NZD$2.6m).

Meanwhile, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that the day before the Akademik Shokalskiy became stuck, passengers had been on a field trip to the Hogdeman Islands.

The ship's Captain Kiselev saw slabs of sea ice moving into the open water and called for everyone to return, but minutes later, Professor Turney drove six more passengers into the field, the newspaper reported.

By the time all passengers were back on board their escape route had been blocked by sea ice.

The stranded ship was retracing Sir Douglas Mawson's 1911 Antarctic expedition when it became trapped.

Six New Zealanders were on board, ornithologist Kerry-Jayne Wilson, University of Auckland doctoral student Colin Tan, Jon and Barbara Tucker, and two chefs.

- APNZ

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