Rescuers head toward stricken ship

Crew and passengers on a ship stranded in thick ice in the Antarctic are in high spirits, the Central Otago mother of one of the crew members says.

Bronwyn Kerr, the mother of Nicola Kerr, a chef on board the MV Akademik Shokalskiy, said she had spoken with her daughter last night and all was well.

She also got to celebrate a white Christmas surrounded by ice and snow, her mother said.

"They are all in good spirits and waiting for the arrival of some ice-breakers to free the ship from the ice," Mrs Kerr said.

Ms Kerr, raised in Central Otago, is one of four Kiwis trapped on an ice-bound Russian ship in Antarctic waters.

As a chef, Nicola had first-hand knowledge of the ship's supplies and reassured the family there was plenty of food to go around, Mrs Kerr said.

There were about 50 passengers, mostly Australian scientists and tourists, and 20 Russian crew members.

Nicola and her chef partner, Bradly Deanes, had the job to keep everyone on the vessel fed and watered until they were freed from the ice and returned to Bluff.

The Kerr family were able to keep in touch with their daughter via satellite phone and email.

But they were not concerned at all about her safety at this time, Mrs Kerr said. The ship was designed to navigate icy waters and everyone was safe.

"I hope they are not delayed too long but this will just be another tale to tell of her adventures at sea."

The voyage is following footsteps of the famed Antarctic explorer and scientist Douglas Mawson in 1911. The ship left Bluff on November 27 and was repeating Mawson's stops and observations to build an account of the change that has occurred since.

Interviewed by The Southland Times just before leaving Bluff in November, Ms Kerr said she was looking forward to being on the high seas again after giving her sea legs a bit of a break.

Growing up in Central Otago's Omakau had not put working on a ship on her job radar, but a chance to head to sea in 2009 changed that.

"I think growing up in Omakau, I was as far away as you can get from the sea in New Zealand," she said.

New Zealand ornithologist Kerry-Jayne Wilson and paramedic Colin Tan are also among the stranded passengers and crew.

The ship sent a distress signal to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority after becoming stuck in pack ice about 9.30am on Christmas Day.

Three rescue ships with icebreaking capability were on their way to try to free the MV Akademik Shokalskiy , but were not expected to reach it until today. The rescue operation may delay the ship's expected arrival back in Bluff in the early New Year.


The Southland Times