Antarctic ship rescue set to begin: Maritime authority

The MV Akademik Shokalskiy is pictured stranded in ice in Antarctica, on Dec 29, 2013. An attempt to rescue passengers from the stricken Russian ship is set to begin shortly, Australia's maritime authority said on Jan 2, 2013, after weather condition
The MV Akademik Shokalskiy is pictured stranded in ice in Antarctica, on Dec 29, 2013. An attempt to rescue passengers from the stricken Russian ship is set to begin shortly, Australia's maritime authority said on Jan 2, 2013, after weather conditions improved. -- FILE PHOTO: REUTERS

SYDNEY (AFP) - An attempt to rescue passengers from a stricken Russian ship in the Antarctic is set to begin shortly, Australia's maritime authority said on Thursday, after weather conditions improved.

The Akademik Shokalskiy, carrying 74 passengers and crew, has not moved since it became trapped about 100 nautical miles east of the French base Dumont d'Urville on Dec 24.

Efforts to free it using icebreaking ships have failed, with the Australian government's supply ship Aurora Australis admitting on Tuesday it was unable to reach the marooned vessel, forcing a more complex helicopter rescue.

Attempts to hold an airborne rescue were called off on Wednesday because of adverse weather conditions.

But in a message posted early on Thursday on their official Twitter account, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (Amsa) said a rescue effort could soon get under way.

"Akademik Shokalskiy has advised RCC (Rescue Coordination Centre) Australia that weather conditions have improved and rescue operations are likely to commence shortly," Amsa said, adding that further information would be issued "throughout the morning".

The announcement will be a source of much needed cheer for the mixed group of scientists, journalists and tourists on board the stranded vessel.

Although the ship is well provisioned and not in any immediate danger, the crew have had to spend Christmas and New Year marooned amid bitter snow storms and blizzards.

Australian authorities, who are coordinating the rescue, plan to use a helicopter on board the Chinese-flagged icebreaker Xue Long to bring 52 passengers off the boat, leaving behind its 22 crew members.

They would then be taken by barge from the Xue Long to the Aurora Australis.

Passengers on the stranded ship had been following in the footsteps of Australian Sir Douglas Mawson and his 1911 to 1914 expedition.

The team has been carrying out the same scientific experiments that Mawson's group conducted during their expedition, partly in an attempt to discover how quickly the Antarctic's sea ice is disappearing.