Bad weather slows rescue effort for trapped Russian vessel

Canberra, Dec 30: An Australian icebreaker is travelling slowly due to the poor weather and has so far come within 11 nautical miles of the Russian vessel trapped in the Antarctic Sea ice for the past six days, the authorities said Monday.

The Russian ship, MV Akademik Shokalskiy, built in Finland in 1982, is carrying a team of Australian scientists and other passengers to conduct scientific experiments, Xinhua reported.

It was scheduled to return to New Zealand in January 2014. It sent a distress call on the Christmas Day after it got stuck in heavy sea ice in the Antarctic Sea.

According to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), the icebreaker arrived near the Antarctic coast at 2 a.m. Monday in a final bid to break through the pack ice surrounding the MV Akademik Shokalskiy, located about 1,500 nautical miles south of Hobart.

But so far poor weather is hampering rescue efforts. “The area is currently experiencing snow showers, resulting in poor visibility,” AMSA spokeswoman Lisa Martin said Monday morning. “The Aurora Australis is travelling slowly due to the conditions to ensure the safety of all on board.”

The Aurora Australis is the last ship in the area that will be able to help. In the past days, two icebreakers – Chinese Snow Dragon and French Astrolabe – have given up efforts to push through the thick and dangerous ice floes to free the trapped ship.

The authorities have confirmed that they will ferry the trapped passengers to safety by helicopter if it can’t battle through the ice.