Passengers and crew who set off on an expedition to prove climate change are ringing in the new year in the same place where they have been for the past week: stuck in ice at the bottom of the world.
The 74 scientists, tourists and crew on the Russian ship MV Akademik Shokalskiy, which has been trapped near Antarctica since last Tuesday, are expecting to be airlifted from the ship by a helicopter.
Andrew Peacock, a doctor on board, said the passengers are frustrated but are trying to keep their spirits high with a New Year’s party they planned in the ship’s bar.
“We are preparing for evacuation to a dry ship so a few drinks seems reasonable, but we also have to be ready at a moment’s notice for the helicopter arrival so staying sober is important,” hetold AFP.
The ship has two weeks’ worth of fresh food, but Peacock said drinks are becoming sparse, with “just enough alcohol left” to ring in 2014.
A helicopter on board a Chinese icebreaker, the Snow Dragon, will be used to collect the passengers. The Snow Dragon, which is waiting with the Australian icebreaker Aurora Australis at the edge of the ice pack, was one of three ships that was unable to crack through the ice, as was France’s L’Astrolabe.
But the helicopter must wait for a break in the weather before it can attempt a rescue, and conditions aren’t expected to improve before Wednesday, the maritime authority said. The passengers will be flown back to the Snow Dragon in groups of 12, and then transferred by barge to the Aurora.
All 52 passengers will be evacuated, but the crew on the Akademik Shokalskiy will stay behind with the ship and wait for the ice to break up naturally, expedition spokesman Alvin Stone said.
A simple shift in the wind could free the ship. Winds from the east have been pounding the ship and pushing the ice around the vessel. A westerly wind would help break up the ice, Stone said. The trouble is, no one knows when the wind will change.
The Australian icebreaker Aurora Australis came within 12 miles of the ship on Monday, but fierce winds and snow forced it to retreat to open water.
On Tuesday, the weather remained bleak, and the crew on the Aurora said their vessel would also be at risk of getting stuck if it made another rescue attempt, according to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, which is coordinating the rescue.
The Akademik Shokalskiy, which left New Zealand on Nov. 28, got stuck on Christmas Eve after a blizzard pushed the sea ice around the ship, freezing it in place about 1,700 miles south of Hobart, Tasmania.
“We’re stuck in our own experiment,” the Australasian Antarctic Expedition said in a statement Monday. “We came to Antarctica to study how one of the biggest icebergs in the world has altered the system by trapping ice. We … are now ourselves trapped by ice surrounding our ship.”
The scientific team on board had been recreating Australian explorer Douglas Mawson’s century-old voyage to Antarctica and expedition leader Chris Turney had hoped to continue the trip if an icebreaker managed to free the ship. The looming helicopter rescue means the expedition will have to be cut short, Stone said.
Still, those on board appeared to be taking it all in stride.
“Surprisingly, all the passengers seem to be considering it the adventure of a lifetime,” Stone said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.