West Coaster trapped in Antarctica

ASHLEIGH STEWART
Last updated 12:03 26/12/2013

About 50 passengers, mostly Australian scientists and tourists, are on board the MV Akademik Shokalskiy, which is locked in ice near Commonwealth Bay.

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Ornithologist Kerry-Jayne Wilson, who lives on the West Coast, has spent Christmas on board a ship trapped in the Antarctic.

Heavy snow and bitter winds have compressed ''huge chunks of ice'' against the vessel.

Wilson, one of four New Zealanders aboard the MV Akademik Shokalskiy, wrote home to friends and family on Christmas Eve, shortly after the ship became stuck.

''We are in for a white Christmas, outside everything is white. We are surrounded by huge chunks of ice being pressed hard against the ship, it is foggy, the sky, well what passes for it, is ghostly white,'' she said in her email.

"It is snowing hard and the bitter southerly wind sweeps off the continent further compressing the ice against the ship.''

About 50 passengers, mostly Australian scientists and tourists, are on board the ship, which is locked in ice near Commonwealth Bay.

As well as Wilson, a former Lincoln University lecturer, the New Zealand contingent aboard the ship are thought to be paramedic Colin Tan and two caterers, including Central Otago woman Nicole Kerr from Omakau.

The crew of 20 is believed to be Russian.

While Wilson said the ship could now ''only drift at the mercy of the wind and currents'', she insisted she was in no danger.

Australian expedition leader Chris Turney, told Fairfax Media yesterday via satellite phone that passengers were enjoying a traditional Christmas dinner while they waited to be freed from the ice.

Turney said the ship was not drifting and he hoped a change in weather might help free it.

"But Antarctica being as it is, you're never quite sure."

An Amsa spokeswoman told AAP three ships capable of icebreaking had been sent to assist but would take at least two days to reach them.

"It's in quite a remote part of the world," she said. "But we have everyone safe. The vessel isn't in any immediate danger."

The ship was being used for the Australasian Antarctic Expedition, which departed from Bluff on November 28.

The privately funded expedition was to return to Mawson's Huts in Antarctica. The huts had been inaccessible for many years because of an iceberg.

The group had expected to return to Bluff on January 4 or 5.

Wilson said before the ship became stuck, she was involved in an ''epic'' trip to census penguins near Cape Denison.

"Penguin numbers were down, there has been massive breeding failure already and the ground was littered with last years dead chicks,'' Wilson wrote.

"The marine team found that the ice had destroyed the kelp-beds normally present here.''

Wilson said the group would begin their  trip north as soon as they were released from the ice. Contact from the ship was likely to be scarce, she said, as emails were sent via satellite phone and were only being sent by the ships manager on the ships email.

"Christmas greeting from a cold, snowy and icy Antarctica."

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