Icebreaker unable to reach Antarctic ship

A stranded research ship, with explorers from the Illawarra on board, will spend its seventh night wedged in Antarctic sea ice after strong winds pushed back an Australian icebreaker sent to its rescue.

The Aurora Australis icebreaker battled through enough sea ice yesterday to come within 10 nautical miles of the stranded vessel, which is carrying more than 70 scientists, explorers and tourists. 

They include Illawarra scientist Chris Turney and University of Wollongong academic Ben Maddison.

But in the latest setback to the rescue mission, the icebreaker abandoned its first attempt and sailed into open water as poor weather moved in.

Rescue authorities have now put the mission on hold over safety concerns, but may try again when the weather improves.

"Further attempts may be made by the vessel ... once weather conditions improve," said Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) spokeswoman Lisa Martin.

Dr Ben Maddison.

The icebreaker arrived near the Antarctic coast at 2am yesterday in a final bid to break through the pack ice surrounding the MV Akademik Shokalskiy, located about 1500 nautical miles south of Hobart.

Two icebreakers have already given up on efforts to push through the thick ice floes.

The ship's passengers, from Australia and New Zealand, have been stuck on the ship since Christmas Eve.

The ship had been undertaking the Spirit of Mawson voyage, which is retracing Sir Douglas Mawson's Antarctic expedition.

Professor Turney, a scientist from the Illawarra, is leading the expedition, consisting of scientists, explorers and enthusiasts undertaking climate research.

Professor Chris Turney.

He has continued to post updates about the failed rescue attempts on social media sites, saying the weather was poor but he remains hopeful since ice appears to be breaking up near the trapped ship.

"Cracks are developing around the bow. Hope this helps," he wrote on Twitter. "High winds this am; sorry for limited comms. All well ... Waiting game!"

The Aurora is the last ship in the area that will be able to help free the Akademik Shokalskiy.

If it can't battle through the ice, authorities will look at ferrying the trapped passengers to safety by helicopter.

The Akademik Shokalskiy sent a distress call on Christmas Day after becoming trapped in heavy sea ice. 


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