The expedition cruise ship Akademik Shokalskiy (pictured), operated by the Australian-based Aurora Expeditions, became trapped during the Christmas period in ice while on a cruise 1,700 nautical miles south of New Zealand. The cruise was intended to recreate the Australasian Antarctic Expedition of 1911-14 led by Sir Douglas Mawson, but ice closed the clear water behind the ship too quickly, preventing the vessel from escaping on Christmas Day. Akademik Shokalskiy had 74 passengers, scientists and crew aboard, but they were not in immediate danger.

The Chinese supply ship Xue Long and the French supply ship L’Astrolabe were despatched to the scene but, although both have ice-breaking capabilities, were unable to reach the stranded Russian ship as the ice thickened, although Xue Long got within seven miles. The Australian ice class survey ship Aurora Australis, owned by P&O Maritime Services, which arrived four days after the ship became trapped, was thought to be the solution, but that ship too was turned back by ice that was too thick, and ice might close her exit route.

Almost a week after Shokalskiy became trapped it was decided that, once the weather allowed, most of the passengers and crew would be evacuated using the helicopter from the Chinese ship, but the helicopter deck in the expedition vessel could not take Xue Long’s helicopter, so a landing area had to be cleared. The evacuation finally took place on 2 January. WM

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