7 Jan 2014

Antarctic mission delays schedule

8:17 pm on 7 January 2014

The Australian Antarctic division says its programme is two weeks behind schedule after supply ship the Aurora Australis was diverted to help a Russian research vessel stranded in ice.

Fifty-two passengers, including six New Zealanders, aboard the Akademik Shokalskiy were transferred to the Aurora Australis in a rescue operation last week.

The Akademik Shokalskiy left New Zealand on 28 November last year on a private expedition to commemorate the 100th anniversary of an Antarctic journey led by Australian explorer Douglas Mawson. On Christmas Eve it got stuck after a blizzard pushed sea ice around the ship, freezing it in place, and made a distress call.

The Aurora Australis crew had only unloaded 50% of the fuel it was carrying and 70% of other cargo at Casey Station in Antarctica before being diverted to try and break its way through thick ice to the ship.

The Antarctic division's Tony Fleming says the Aurora Australia is expected at the base on Tuesday night to complete the job. It will then return to Hobart in Tasmania with the passengers.

"The incident has delayed our season, so we need to do the resupply very quickly and get the vessel back to Hobart and turn around quite quickly to the next voyage."

The Akademik Shokalskiy and a Chinese ship that also went to its rescue, the Xue Long, remain stranded in ice, awaiting the arrival of an American Coast Guard icebreaker at the end of this week.