Australian authorities say they may have to resort to the use of a helicopter to evacuate passengers from a ship stranded off Antarctica. Bad weather has slowed the progress of an icebreaker trying to reach the vessel.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) said on Monday that the icebreaker Aurora Australis remained 11 nautical miles (20 kilometers) from the stranded ship, the MV Akademik Shokalskiy.
"The area is currently experiencing snow showers, resulting in poor visibility," a statement issued by the AMSA said, adding that the ship was travelling slowly due to safety considerations.
"It is unknown at this time if or when the Aurora Australis will arrive near the Akademik Shokalskiy due to weather and ice conditions," the statement said.
The AMSA also raised the possibility that the Australian icebreaker, like a Chinese ship before it, could fail in its bid to reach the stranded Russian vessel, something that has officials considering an alternative plan.
"It will be several hours before the Aurora gets there, if it is capable. And then if it can't then we'll be looking at using the helicopter on the Chinese vessel once weather conditions are appropriate, AMSA spokesperson Lisa Martin told Australian public broadcaster ABC.
The Chinese icebreaker, the Snow Dragon, failed in a previous attempt to blaze a trail through the ice to the Russian ship, which has 74 people on board, including both scientists and tourists.
The Akademik Shokalskiy set sail from New Zealand late last month to embark on mission to commemorate the 100th anniversary of an expedition led by Australian explorer Douglas Mawson. The scientists on board have been carrying out similar experiments as those conducted during the Mawson mission, meant to increase understanding about climate change.
Efforts to rescue the stranded ship began after Britain's Falmouth Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre received a distress call transmitted from the Akademik Shokalskiy via satellite.
pfd/lw (Reuters, AFP)