Science, Tech & Environment

This Antarctic expedition is chilling while it waits for rescue boats to free ship from pack ice

Updated:

Chris Fogwill.jpg

Credit:

Andrew Peacock

Chris Fogwill looks out on the frozen Antarctic. His expedition is retracing the steps of Douglas Mawson a century ago.

It's an expedition frozen in ice.

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(This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.)

A group of scientists and tourists aboard the research ship, the Akademik Shokalskiy, has been stuck in dense ice pack since Tuesday.

The team on board is recreating Sir Douglas Mawson's historic voyage to Antarctica about a century ago.

But a blizzard and strong winds forced the ice to close in on the ship.

The research team of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition (AAE) 2013 was just departing the Commonwealth Bay area in remote East Antarctica when fierce winds hit.

The blizzard set in motion rafts of pack ice and the vessel became surrounded and trapped.

For some scientists aboard the Shokalskiy, being trapped in ice was nothing new.

"It's fantastic - I love it when the ice wins and we don't," said expedition marine ecologist Tracy Rogers. "It just reminds you that as humans we don't control everything."

In addition to the Russian crew, the expedition team consists of  professional scientists from Australia and New Zealand, and volunteer science assistants - members of the public who paid to join the scientific adventure.

The vessel is stuck about 1,500 nautical miles south of Hobart, Australia.

"Now we just have to guess and hope and wonder which ice breaker is going to come rescue us," Rogers told BBC reporter Andrew Luck-Baker. "Will it be the Chinese, will it be the Australians? Will it be the French?"

Today, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said that three ships with icebreaking capability are en route to the vessel. But the first ship isn't expected to arrive until tomorrow night.

"The ship looks solid," said science volunteer Sean Borkovic . "I think we'll be good."

UPDATE: Monday, December 30, 2013

 

It's the ultimate waiting game.

The Russian-flagged, Akademik Shokalskiy, a research ship carrying 74 scientists, tourists and crew, has been stuck on an ice field since last Tuesday. Surrounded by ice, that's reported to be anywhere from 6 to 10 feet thick, the ship is situated off the coast of Antarctica. 

Bad weather hampered a third rescue effort earlier today when an Australian icebreaker, the Aurora Australis, was forced to turn back. The Australian Maritime Safety Authority is coordinating the rescue efforts. 

"The Aurora Australis will be assessing the conditions tomorrow to see if they are able to get in tomorrow to make another attempt at reaching the Russian vessel," said Lisa Martin, AMSA's spokesperson. AMSA has been updating their Twitter account on where they are located in relation to the Russian vessel.

 

The BBC's Andrew Luck-Baker is aboard the ship, and says there's plenty of fresh and dehyrated food, and about 50 days worth of fuel. He says there's no concern over depleating supplies and essentials.

"You know, we're not going to be here for weeks and weeks and weeks. It will be within one or two days before a decision is made to get us off or get out us out of the ice somehow."

The Shokalskiy left New Zealand over a month ago on a private expedition to commemorate the 100th anniversary of an Antarctic journey led by Australian explorer Douglas Mawson.

The 233-foot ship became trapped last week about a hundred nautical miles east of the French Antarctic station, Dumont D'Urville, and about 1,500 nautical miles south of Tasmania.

Luck-Baker explains how some of the passengers of the ship are passing the time:

"There is a bit of a project going on among the science volunteers, who are the paying passengers, who people often refer to as the 'tourists' on board. So they've been making videos of what they are doing-- all sorts of stuff. There were science projects that have largely been suspended for the time being, but there's been an awful lot of science gonig on for the past week. Plus, people are going to knot-tying classes, [and] when we we're allowed off the ship yesterday, there was dancing on the ice."

Some passengers are making the best of a bad situation, but not all of them. Laurence Topham is a video producer with London's Guardian newspaper. In a video he made for The Guardian to provide his take on the stranded ship, he confessess:

"I miss my girlfriend. I miss my family and friends. I miss banana peanut butter milkshakes. I miss-- just a nice comfortable bed. I've got this thin, small bed, and I mean I'm thin but it's even thinner and it's not comfortable. I've hurt my back . My back aches, and I've jammed my leg in the door last night when I was filing in the snow and that hurt," he sighs. "And it's only going to get worse. Tune in, next time on 'Stranded In Ice'." His final thought: "Oh God - I'm going mad."

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