A South Canterbury seafarer with first-hand experience of being stuck in pack ice has been keenly watching the news about the trapped Akademik Shokalskiy since it became stuck in Antarctica on Christmas Day.
John Parsloe, of Woodbury, is an ice master. He has spent years navigating ships through the icy waters of Antarctica and the Arctic and, having become stuck himself in 1982, has some idea how the 74 people on board the ship may be feeling.
The planned rescue of the 52 scientists and tourists, including six New Zealanders, on the Akademik Shokalskiy was again delayed for much of yesterday. The helicopter on Chinese icebreaker Xue Long was expected to evacuate the passengers, but alternative rescue plans were considered after the captain of the Xue Long requested assistance when it too became trapped. However, last night it was reported that the helicopter had been able to start flying passengers off the icebound ship.
"Judging by the television footage and what has been in the newspaper, the spirits seem to be high," Mr Parsloe said. "That's the sign of good leadership on the boat. They will have been reassured that rescue is not far away, and will be feeling reasonably safe. If they don't have their spirits up and become scared, the experience could be absolutely terrifying.
"The captain and officers and crew will be really concerned, but with modern technology they'll know they're likely to be rescued. I would think they'll still be feeling safe."
Mr Parsloe said the captain would be hoping for a southerly wind to blow the ship and the ice it is trapped in further north.
Mr Parsloe wasn't sure of the exact design of the Akademik Shokalskiy, but suspected the crew would be concerned about damage to the propeller and rudder.
"If they haven't been able to keep them moving, the possibility of damage is quite high."
He suspects "commercial pressure" may have played a part in the decision to enter the area where the vessel was trapped.
"These situations are obviously challenging and difficult. I think I would have approached it differently," he said.
Mr Parsloe recalls being trapped in Arctic ice aboard the Benjamin Bowring in 1982.
"We were sent to pick up two guys who were exploring and were concerned about their safety. We made three attempts to get to them, and became stuck for days. Fortunately a wind came from the North Pole, opened the ice, and blew us back down. We got the engine going and moved away."
Mr Parsloe, 70 this year, has decided his seafaring days are nearly over, apart from a possible final journey to Antarctica this month.
- The Timaru Herald