Crew thaw after Antarctic ordeal

NEIL RATLEY
Last updated 05:00 15/01/2014

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The Akademik Shokalskiy sailed back into Bluff Harbour yesterday after an icy ordeal left the ship, its crew and 52 passengers stuck in thick Antarctic ice on Christmas Eve.

On board yesterday were only the 22 Russian crew members who stayed on the ship, waiting for a change in conditions.

The Russian research ship finally managed to break free after nearly two weeks, bringing to an end a long-running rescue mission.

The 52 passengers, who included scientists, tourists and journalists, were rescued by helicopter and transferred to an Australian icebreaker, Aurora Australis, a week after the Akademik Shokalskiy was trapped.

The Aurora Australis is expected to dock in Hobart on Monday, finally bringing an end to the drama for six New Zealanders, including Central Otago chef Nicola Kerr.

Only a handful of the Russian crew members were on the Akademik Shokalskiy when media were allowed on board yesterday.

Aaron Russ, the son of Heritage Expeditions founder Rodney Russ, said they were probably stretching their legs and enjoying the warm Southland weather.

A change in the wind direction eventually took the pressure off the ice and allowed the Akademik Shokalskiy to break free, he said.

While there was no immediate danger to passengers and crew during the ordeal, the ship's captain, Igor Kiselelev, did declare a state of emergency, known as a pan-pan, Mr Russ said.

A pan-pan informs potential rescuers, including emergency services and other crafts in the area, that a safety problem existed.

Mr Russ believed the ship got stuck due to unexpected ice movement caused by the strong winds in Commonwealth Bay, "the windiest place on earth".

"Captain Igor would never take his ship into an area where he was not confident he could get out."

The ship's third mate, Dmitri Danilenok, said the crew were all well and there were no issues while they waited to be freed from the ice.

He did admit it had been a "bit cold" and he was glad to be back in port.

Ministry for Primary Industries staff checked the vessel as part of its biosecurity process and gave the ship the all-clear, a spokesman said.

Heritage Travel Services general manager David Bowen said the Akademik Shokalskiy would undergo provisioning and required inspections before departing on Saturday for a return trip to Antarctic waters.

The diversion of the Aurora Australis from a critical resupply to Australian research site Casey Station was expected to have cost the Australian Antarctic Division - which charters the icebreaker from P&O Maritime Services - time and money.

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The division's acting director, Jason Mundy, told Fairfax compensation would be dealt with between the ship's owner, P&O Maritime, and insurance agencies

According to international maritime conventions, the cost of the rescue falls to the ships involved.

neil.ratley@stl.co.nz

- © Fairfax NZ News

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