A sick passenger has been urgently evacuated off a cruise ship in Antarctica.

The 66-year-old woman from the Netherlands is believed to have suffered a stroke yesterday and the New Zealand Recue Coordination Centre is overseeing the operation to bring her to New Zealand.

Maritime New Zealand said the woman has been taken by helicopter to McMurdo Station, where she will stay overnight before flying to New Zealand on Wednesday.

The woman was on the MV Ortelius, which is about 3600km south of New Zealand in the Ross Sea.


The Rescue Coordination Centre said the vessel was taking her towards the United States' Antarctic research centre at McMurdo Station, about 620km away.

"The MV Ortelius will attempt to get as close to McMurdo Station as conditions allow for the woman to be transferred. If ice prevents the vessel reaching McMurdo she will be transported by the vessel's own helicopter and flown to McMurdo Station. The woman will fly on to New Zealand on a regular scheduled flight," said the rescue centre's senior search and rescue officer Chris Henshaw.

"RCCNZ is in touch with the ship, McMurdo Station and Government agencies in New Zealand to smooth the way. We expect the medevac will happen around midday on Tuesday."

The woman would then be flown to New Zealand tomorrow.

Antarctica was one of the world's harshest environments and every precaution was being taken by everyone involved to make sure the medevac was successful.

"Weather conditions are suitable for the medevac, however RCCNZ will monitor the situation," said Henshaw. "Everything's lining up for a successful operation, but we'll be keeping a close eye on the situation in the hours ahead."