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Australian Icebreaker Turns Back from Antarctic Rescue Mission

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An Australian icebreaker was forced to turn back from an attempt to rescue the passengers on a Russian research vessel trapped in thick Antarctic ice, citing poor weather that made the mission unsafe, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) said Monday.

VLADIVOSTOK, December 30 (RIA Novosti) – An Australian icebreaker was forced to turn back from an attempt to rescue the passengers on a Russian research vessel trapped in thick Antarctic ice, citing poor weather that made the mission unsafe, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) said Monday.

The icebreaker, Aurora Australis, made it within 10 nautical miles (18 kilometers) of the stranded Akademik Shokalsky, but is now located in open waters about 18 nautical miles east of the Russian vessel. The area where Akademik Shokalsky is bottled up by ice is currently experiencing winds of up to 30 knots and snow showers, according to the Authority.

“Further attempts may be made by the vessel in due course to undertake the rescue once weather conditions improve,” AMSA said. An attempt by a Chinese vessel to launch its helicopter to rescue the 74 people onboard was also prevented by the weather, the statement said.

All the 52 scientists, explorers and tourists on board, many of them Australian, and 22 Russian crew members remain safe and well with supplies for several weeks, AMSA said. Australia’s rescue coordination center (RCC Australia) is continuing to monitor the situation, AMSA said.

The Australian ship’s rescue bid is the third attempt to recover the ship’s passengers from the Russian icebreaker that has been stuck in thick ice off East Antarctica since December 25.

The Chinese icebreaker Snow Dragon came within just seven nautical miles (11 kilometers) of the stranded vessel on Saturday, but was forced to turn back after also having problems with the dense ice. An earlier rescue attempt by a French vessel also failed.

The team of scientists and tourists on the Academik Shokalsky had been retracing a famous Australian Antarctic Expedition from 101 years ago. The fare for tourists was $15,000 each, according to the website of tour agency Expeditions Online.

The agency described the ship, built by a Finnish shipyard for the Soviet Union in 1982 for polar research, as “fully ice-strengthened.” The vessel, chartered by the Australian company Aurora Expeditions, is owned by the Russian government and is based out of Vladivostok.

 

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