Antarctic expedition leader defends voyage

The leader of an Antarctic expedition that ended in more than 50 people being rescued, has defended their voyage, saying it wasn’t a ‘‘jolly tourist trip’’.

Chris Turney led the Australasian Antarctic Expedition (AAE) to the region at the end of November last year.

But after completing their work program on the continent, their Russian vessel MV Akademik Shokalskiy became beset by thick ice on Christmas Eve.

After more than a week of being locked in ice, the 52 scientists and tourists aboard the ship were airlifted by a helicopter on the Chinese icebreaker Xue Long.

But shortly after the rescue, the 101 crew of the Chinese icebreaker itself became beset by thick ice.

A number of people, including the director of the French Polar Institute Yves Frenot have criticised the AAE saying it was a ‘‘pseudo-scientific expedition’’ that had drained resources from the region and seen counties cancel scientific programs.

Mr Turney, a professor at the University of NSW who lives in the Illawarra, has hit back, saying they were frustrated over ‘‘what appears to be a misrepresentation of the expedition in some news outlets’’.

‘‘We have been accused of being a tourist trip with little scientific value,’’ he wrote in an opinion piece published by The Observer.

The trip, which was inspired by the Sir Douglas Mawson led expedition of 1911-1914, sought to investigate a number of issues in the region, including changes in seal and seabird populations.

He said the amount of data they collected throughout their trip ‘‘far exceeded’’ their expectations.

However, events unfolded which no amount of preparation could have mitigated, he said.

‘‘There was nothing to suggest this event was imminent. We have had regular updates on the state of the sea ice in the area and had been monitoring the region for the last year.’’

He said the expedition was not a ‘‘jolly tourist trip’’ as some had claimed, and that it will be judged by its peer-reviewed publications on the scientists’ return.

Mr Turney and the others are now on board Aurora Australis on their way to Australia’s Antarctic base Casey Station and then Tasmania.

The US Coast Guard’s icebreaker Polar Star is on its way to help the Russian and Chinese vessels.

AAP 

Picture ANDREW PEACOCK.
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