Most passengers and some crew from a scientific expedition ship stranded off Antarctica will be evacuated by helicopter to a Chinese icebreaker if weather conditions improve, Russia says.
Authorities decided to resort to the helicopter evacuation after the Aurora Australis rescue icebreaker was forced to retreat in the face of freezing winds and snow showers 10 nautical miles from the Russian-flagged MV Akademik Shokalskiy, which is stuck in an ice field.
Thick ice had earlier prevented both the Chinese icebreaker Xue Long and a French icebreaker from reaching the stranded crew.
“A decision has been reached to evacuate 52 passengers and four crew members by helicopter from China’s Xue Long ship, should the weather allow,” the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement on Monday.
The MV Akademik Shokalskiy has been stuck on an ice field since last week with 74 people on board.
The ship’s passengers, from Australia and New Zealand, have been stuck on the ship since Christmas Eve.
The ship had been undertaking the Spirit of Mawson voyage, which is retracing Sir Douglas Mawson’s Antarctic expedition.
Professor Chris Turney of the University of NSW is leading the expedition, consisting of scientists, explorers and enthusiasts undertaking climate research.
Turney said via Skype from the stranded ship that those on board were in good spirits and wanted their families and friends to know they were safe and well.
“It’s Antarctica, we are just taking it one day at a time,” he told AFP.
“The conditions are so extreme in Antarctica, you just never know. We are always hopeful.”
Australia’s rescue co-ordination centre is in regular contact with the ship, which is stationary 100 nautical miles east of the French base Dumont D’Urville.