A RESCUE VESSEL is shortly due to reach a ship which has been stranded in the Antarctica since Christmas Eve.
The Russian passenger ship Akademik Shokalskiy has 74 people on board, a mixture of scientists, tourists and crew. The vessel is trapped in ice about 1500 nautical miles south of Australia.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), which is coordinating the rescue of the passenger ship, has sent the Aurora Australis, an icebreaker, to the stranded ship in a bid to free it from its current location. The vessel is expected to arrive around 1pm GMT.
A Chinese icebreaker which was initially sent to help encountered heavy ice and was unable to reach the ship. However the AMSA said the vessel remains in the vicinity of the Akademik Shokalskiy to help if necessary.
Passengers watch as a helicopter flies over the stranded ship to assess whether it will be able to land. (Screengrab)
The Chinese ship is equipped with a helicopter which may be used to evacuate passengers if the Aurora Australis is unable to break through the ice to reach the Akademik Shokalskiy.
The Russian boat is well-stocked with food and is in no immediate danger.
“Rescue Coordination Centre Australia is in regular contact with the MV Akademik Shokalskiy and the 74 people on board are reported to be safe and well,” the AMSA said in a statement.
The Akademik Shokalskiy trapped in ice. (AP Photo/Australasian Antarctic Expedition/Footloose Fotography/Andrew Peacock)
Some of the people on board the ship have reported that conditions are improving, with ice in the area appearing to ease somewhat. The ice surrounding the ship is estimated to be between three and four metres thick.
Passengers on the ship have been able to leave to ship to walk on the ice. Some have recorded video messages for family and friends anxious for news.
(Videos: Intrepid Science/YouTube)
The search and rescue operation began on Christmas morning when a rescue coordination centre in the UK received a distress message via satellite from the Akademik Shokalskiy.
The ship is following the path of explorer Sir Douglas Mawson, one of the first people to lead an expedition to the Antarctic one hundred years ago. The passengers have been carrying out the same scientific experiments Mawson’s team conducted during their expedition between 1911 and 1914.
The passengers had been on board the ship for three weeks and had intended to return to New Zealand by early January.