SYDNEY Dec 31 Passengers and crew aboard a
Russian ship trapped for eight days in ice off Antarctica
planned to ring in the New Year with dinner, drinks and song as
they waited for a break in a blizzard to allow a Chinese
helicopter to rescue them.
But they can't party too hard because the rescue could come
at any minute.
The Akademik Shokalskiy, trapped since Dec. 24 about 100
nautical miles east of a French Antarctic station, Dumont
D'Urville, and about 1,500 nautical miles south of Tasmania,
welcomes the New Year at 1100 GMT, two hours ahead of Sydney.
It was not possible to contact the ship immediately thanks
to patchy communications in one of the coldest and remotest
places on Earth, but the plan was for passengers to congregate
in the bar and sing a song about their adventure.
Revelries were to be kept in check in case passengers and
crew had to leave at any moment if the snow and wind cleared.
"Tonight's celebrations have been tempered by the knowledge
that we will definitely be getting helicoptered off, basically
at the earliest opportunity, once the weather improves," Andrew
Peacock, the expedition's doctor, said by satellite telephone.
"The camaraderie has been great but it is all a bit of a
shame for it to end this way. We know a lot of other people are
working incredibly hard to get us out of here."
The ship left New Zealand on Nov. 28 on a private expedition
marking the 100th anniversary of an Antarctic journey led by
famed Australian explorer Douglas Mawson.
A helicopter on board a nearby Chinese icebreaker was on
standby after an Australian icebreaker on Monday failed to reach
the ship, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) said
Rescuers planned to move all of the 52 passengers from the
ship to the Chinese vessel, the Snow Dragon, with most crew
expected to stay on the Russian ship, AMSA said.
The Chinese ship got within sight of the Akademik Shokalskiy
on Saturday, but turned back after failing to break the ice,
which was more than 3 metres (10 feet) deep in places.
Passengers will be transferred from the Snow Dragon to
Australia's Antarctic supply ship, the Aurora Australis.
With 24 hours of daylight, passengers have been told the
evacuation could start at any time.
"Weather conditions are unlikely to start improving until
tomorrow and decisions related to carrying out the rescue may be
made at short notice," AMSA said on Tuesday.
The 74 people on board the Akademik Shokalskiy include
scientists and tourists, many of them Australian, and 22 Russian
Expedition leader Chris Turney said the week had been
"sobering" but morale was good.
While it has been impossible to break the pack ice outside,
the ice has been broken on board with birthday celebrations,
singing and art classes. There is enough fresh food on board for
"We are all keeping busy, with twice daily briefings
outlining all the information we have to hand, alongside classes
through the day (knot tying, languages, yoga, photography and
many others) while the science programme has continued as best
we can," Turney said on a blog for the expedition (www.spiritofmawson.com/)
(Editing by Nick Macfie and Robert Birsel)