Rescued Antarctic expedition arrives in Australia
Passengers rescued from a Russian research ship that became trapped in thick pack ice in Antarctica last month have finally arrived in Australia.
The 52 scientists and tourists had to be airlifted from the Akademik Shokalskiy onto an Australian ship after several failed rescue attempts.
The Aurora Australis has now arrived in the Tasmanian port of Hobart.
But there are still unanswered questions as to who will pay for the expensive international rescue mission.
The Aurora Australis had to suspend a resupply mission to Australia's permanent base in the Antarctic, Casey Station, to take part in the rescue.
The captain and crew realised they were surrounded and stuck fast by Christmas Eve, 24 December. Chris Turney estimates that open water lay just two nautical miles ahead. However, by that point, with the ice so thick and more floes accumulating around and ahead of us, clear water might as well have been 20 nautical miles away. Within a couple of days, it was in fact that distance to open water.
The Australian Antarctic Division says operators of the Russian ship should foot the bill for the rescue, which it said had stretched its resources and could affect research projects.
Expedition leader Chris Turney said lawyers and insurers were discussing costs, adding that he was very grateful to those who came to help.
"We are terribly sorry for any impact that might have had on fellow colleagues, whose work has been delayed from the operation, but any experienced Antarctic scientist knows that's an inherent risk," he said.
The team were retracing a route explorer Douglas Mawson travelled a century ago, but their vessel became trapped on 24 December.
Several attempts to break through to the ship by sea - by the Chinese icebreaker Xue Long, the Aurora Australis and French-flagged L'Astrolabe - failed because of the thickness of the ice.
In the end the passengers were flown in groups to the Aurora Australis by a helicopter from the Chinese ice-breaker.