The passengers and some of the crew on a Russian-flagged research
ship stranded in ice off Antarctica will be evacuated by a Chinese
helicopter once weather permits, the Russian Foreign Ministry said
"A decision has been reached to evacuate 52 passengers and
four crew members (using a) helicopter from China's Xue Long (Snow
Dragon) ship, should the weather allow," the ministry said in a
However, a spokeswoman for the Australian authority
leading the rescue effort said officials remain hopeful that an
icebreaker ship will reach the MV Akademik Shokalskiy and make a
helicopter rescue unnecessary.
"There is more risk with a
helicopter," Lisa Martin, spokeswoman for the Australian Maritime Safety
Authority, told USA TODAY. "The icebreaker Aurora Australis will make
further attempts when the weather improves. We are looking at trying to
keep that going for now."
The Akademik Shokalskiy has been stuck
in ice up to 10 feet thick since Christmas. Rescue efforts took a step
backward Monday when the Aurora Australis was forced to retreat to open
water. The icebreaker was buffeted by 30 mph winds and snow showers as
it ground toward the research ship, Martin said.
weather conditions are still limiting the effort," Martin said. "But
reports from the ship are that everyone is safe and well."
leader Chris Turney, a professor of climate change at Australia's
University of New South Wales, tweeted Monday at 1 p.m. ET: "A
disappointing day by hopefully the icebreakers well get through to us
tomorrow." And minutes later: "Had a few hours sleep. Feel better. Good
news: visibility improved to horizon. Wind moderate (20 knots)."
authority said the icebreaker closed to within 12 miles of the cruise
ship before retreating and now sits about 20 miles away.
Chinese icebreaker Snow Dragon came within about 8 miles of reaching the
ship Saturday before turning back. It has remained in the area and is
equipped with a helicopter.
Martin said rescue officials were in
regular contact with the Akademik Shokalskiy, adding that the ship has
supplies for two more weeks.
The ship has 52 passengers of
tourists, scientists and explorers - most of them Australians -- and a
crew of 22 Russians, the Russian Foreign Ministry said. The ship, which
left New Zealand last month, is on a research voyage to honor the 100th
anniversary of the expedition of Australian scientist Douglas Mawson.
a blog post on spiritofmawson.com, Turney wrote Monday that the group
was keeping busy with scientific work as well as classes in "knot tying,
languages, yoga, photography and many others."
The cruise ship,
stuck about 1,500 miles south of Hobart, Tasmania, has not suffered
damage. Morale remains high and passengers have ample provisions, Turney
The search and rescue operation began on Christmas
morning after Britain's Falmouth Maritime Rescue Coordination Center
received a distress message via satellite from the Akademik Shokalskiy.
distress message and subsequent coordination of the incident was passed
to RCC Australia, which is the search and rescue authority responsible
for the area.
John Bacon, USA TODAY