'Morale high' on stranded Antarctica ship

  • 31 December 2013
  • From the section Asia
Media captionThe BBC's Andrew Luck-Baker says confusion surrounds the fate of the rescue vessel

Morale among the scientists and research volunteers - or tourists - of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition 2013 is surprisingly high.

A new year is fast approaching and although that will not be accompanied by a new view for us from the ice-beset decks, preparations are underway for when midnight strikes off Cape De La Motte in east Antarctica.

A special song and dance routine is being written, choreographed and rehearsed for the dawn of 2014.

Meanwhile, expedition scientists have been deploying their instruments from the rear of the Shokalskiy, to measure water temperatures and salinity all the way from 10 metres below the ice to the sea bed.

At our briefing this morning, we discovered that we would be going nowhere for at least another 24 hours.

The Australian icebreaker, the Aurora Australis, is holding its position in clear water beyond the mass of pack ice trapping us. Its two attempts to reach us yesterday failed.

Plans to evacuate us by air are also on hold. Low cloud has made it too risky for the helicopter from the Chinese icebreaker, the Xue Long, to fly out and land next to us on the pack.

Image caption The ship has been stuck in ice since Christmas Eve
Image caption Expedition leader Prof Chris Turney has been updating the world's media on the progress of the rescue

The winds are also up too now - blowing between 15 and 25 knots.

It was hoped that a helicopter evacuation could take place when the weather improved.

Media captionThe trapped members onboard the MV Akademik Shokalskiy sing what they describe as "the anthem of the expedition"

A hefty Chinese helicopter was to land next to us and ferry us in groups of 15 to the ice edge close to the Aurora, before we were transferred across clear water to an Australian icebreaker.

However, the Chinese ship, the Xue Long, may now be trapped itself. It has barely moved position in a day, according to one of the leaders of the Australian Antarctic Expedition 2013, Prof Chris Turney.

The Russian crew were expecting to stay on board the Shokalskiy for what could be weeks, until the ice has weakened enough for an icebreaker to break through. The rest of us may have to join them if the airlift plan falls through.

A huge US icebreaker, the Polar Star, should be in the area in a week to 10 days. We are told that the Polar Star can slice through sea ice six metres thick.

The mood of the Russian crew has also been affected by reports of the bombings in their home country.

Image caption Andrew Luck-Baker is one of more than 70 individuals on the ship
Image caption The purpose of the expedition has been to re-trace the steps of Antarctic explorer Douglas Mawson

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