Antarctic blizzard halts icebreaker's rescue mission

A Russian ship remains trapped in ice after a rescue vessel was forced to turn back due to poor visibility. If conditions permit, a helicopter will be used to rescue most of those on board the stranded ship. 

REUTERS/Andrew Peacock
The MV Akademik Shokalskiy is pictured stranded in ice in Antarctica on Sunday. A blizzard forced an Australian icebreaker to turn back before it reached the trapped Russian ship, rescuers said on Monday.

An Antarctic blizzard has halted an Australian icebreaker's attempt to reach a Russian ship trapped for a week with 74 people onboard, rescuers said on Monday.

The Akademik Shokalskiy left New Zealand on Nov. 28 on a private expedition to commemorate the 100th anniversary of an Antarctic journey led by Australian explorer Douglas Mawson.

It became trapped in the ice on Dec. 24, 100 nautical miles east of the French Antarctic station Dumont D'Urville. The 74 people aboard include scientists and tourists, many of them Australian, and 22 Russian crew.

A first rescue attempt by a Chinese icebreaker, the Snow Dragon, had to be halted because the ice was so thick.

Now another attempt, by the Aurora Australis, has been hampered by the weather.

It has had to return to open waters about 18 nautical miles from the Akademik Shokalskiy because of poor visibility, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), which is co-ordinating the rescue, said.

The Australian vessel had reached as close as about 10 nautical miles from the trapped ship before turning back.

"The weather condition is not safe for it to proceed, and it's gone back to open water," said AMSA spokeswoman Lisa Martin.

The Snow Dragon is 6.7 nautical miles from the Akademik Shokalskiy and a helicopter on board will be used to rescue all 52 passengers and some crew if weather conditions permit, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Monday.

Asked whether the passengers would have to see in the New Year on the stranded ship, Martin said: "It certainly looks like they will be there tomorrow."

(Reporting by Maggie Lu Yueyang; Additional reporting by Alexei Anishchuk in Moscow; Editing by Nick Macfie and Alison Williams)

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