Antarctic rescue of Akademik Shokalskiy ship completed

Rescuers in Antarctica have safely transferred all 52 passengers stranded on the ice-bound research vessel Akademik Shokalskiy.

The Australian rescue operators said the scientists and tourists were now all aboard the ship Aurora Australis.

They were flown there in groups by a helicopter from a Chinese ice-breaker.

The Shokalskiy has been trapped since Christmas Eve. Its 22 crew are expected to remain on board to wait until the vessel becomes free.

The Shokalskiy was trapped by thick sheets of ice driven by strong winds, about 1,500 nautical miles south of Hobart – the capital of the Australian state of Tasmania.

The vessel is being used by the Australasian Antarctic Expedition to follow the route explorer Douglas Mawson travelled a century ago.

‘Thanks everyone!’

“We’ve made it to the Aurora australis safe & sound. A huge thanks to the Chinese & @AusAntarctic for all their hard work!,” expedition leader Chris Turney tweeted.

The helicopter belongs to the Chinese icebreaker, Xue Long, and each flight has taken about 45 minutes, round-trip.The Australian Maritime Safety Authority’s (Amsa) Rescue Co-ordination Centre, which is overseeing the operation, had earlier said it was unlikely the rescue would go ahead on Thursday as hoped because of the sea-ice conditions.

But it later reported: “Aurora Australis has advised Amsa that the 52 passengers from the Akademik Shokalskiy are now on board.”

The passengers were being taken to an ice floe next to the Aurora Australis and ferried on to the ice-breaker by a small boat.

The BBC’s Phil Mercer in Sydney says the passengers sang songs while they waited to board the aircraft.

He says the British-born explorer whose expedition they were retracing had been struck by the region’s unrelenting hostility and violent blizzards – something those trapped for more than a week can now fully appreciate.

The passengers are not expected back in Tasmania until mid-January.

Several attempts to break through to the ship by sea – by the Xue Long, Aurora Australis and French-flagged L’Astrolabe – failed because of the thickness of the ice.

Despite being trapped, the scientists have continued their experiments, measuring temperature and salinity through cracks in the surrounding ice.

One of the aims is to track how quickly the Antarctic’s sea ice is disappearing.

The ship has plenty of stocks and has never been in danger.