Icebreakers on way to free trapped ship

SOURCE: Illawarra Mercury

If all goes well, by the time you read this, Illawarra scientist Chris Turney, University of Wollongong academic Ben Maddison and 70 others aboard the ship Akademik Shokalskiy will be free of the Antarctic ice and slowly making their way home.

They left New Zealand on December 8 on an Australasian Antarctic Expedition voyage retracing the steps of Antarctic explorer Douglas Mawson.

The ship, carrying researchers and tourists, was heading north when it became trapped by rapidly moving ice.

"Conditions changed a few days ago," Professor Turney said.

"We turned around and started moving, but we weren't fast enough," he said.

Professor Chris Turney.

"We were stuck in by sea ice. We were on our way north, and so close to being out of the sea ice, so we've been unlucky."

Stranded somewhere near Cape Denison, more than 1500 nautical miles south of Hobart, the Russian captain sent a distress call on Christmas Eve.

When the Illawarra Mercury talked to Prof Turney on his satellite phone yesterday, he said Chinese and French icebreaker ships were on their way and expected to arrive within a day.

Dr Ben Maddison.

"We've been keeping busy, and morale is good," he said, assuring worried family or friends their loved ones were safe and well.

"It's a science expedition. We've been doing more measurements while we're waiting."

Prof Turney - who was involved with the Homo floresiensis or "Hobbit" discovery several years ago - led the first team in years to reach Mawson's hut on the frozen continent. Creeping sea ice had prevented recent expeditions from visiting the fabled structure.

A wide variety of scientists are on board the ship, from ecologists and ornithologists observing leopard seal and Adelie penguin colonies, to oceanographers measuring the temperature and salinity levels of Antarctic waters.

The team enjoyed a unique Christmas Day encased in ice, and Prof Turney said everyone was anxious to get moving again.

"When we're freed, we will be pushing north to Macquarie Island," he said, referencing the island midway between New Zealand and Antarctica.

To follow the progress of the ship, visit

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