The latest news update from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority’s (AMSA) Rescue Coordination Centre (RCC Australia) informs that the Australian icebreaker 'Aurora Australis' is unable to reach the stranded 'Akademik Shokalskiy' as it would risk becoming beset itself if it continued with rescue attempts. Evacuation of passengers by helicopter is now planned.
The Aurora Australis made attempts yesterday to reach the MV Akademik Shokalskiy but was driven back into open waters due to adverse weather conditions with winds up to 30 knots and snow showers causing poor visibility. The ship is currently located about 16 nautical miles east of the Russian vessel.
AMSA say that the helicopter on board the Chinese vessel Xue Long, which is also in the vicinity, will now be used to rescue the passengers, but that the rescue will be a complex operation involving a number of steps and subject to the weather.
The helicopter is unable to fly in the current weather conditions, and will hold off on the rescue until conditions improve. Weather conditions are unlikely to start improving until tomorrow and decisions related to carrying out the rescue may be made at short notice. Meanwhile, in preparation for the rescue, an area for the helicopter to land has been marked on the ice near the MV Akademik Shokalskiy.
RCC Australia has been advised that all 52 passengers will leave the expedition cruise ship and that all 22 crew members are expected to remain on board.
The passengers are expected to be rescued by helicopter in groups of 12 and will be initially transported to the Xue Long. The Aurora Australis will then use its barge (which can take up to 22 people at a time) to transfer all 52 passengers on board their vessel.
RCC Australia continues to coordinate the incident and say they are in regular contact with all vessels involved, which are also in close contact with each other via VHF radio.