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Icebreaker headed for trapped cruise ship slowed by ice, weather

Dec. 27, 2013 at 3:14 PM   |   Comments

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SYDNEY, Dec. 27 (UPI) -- A Chinese icebreaker on its way to rescue an ice-bound polar exploration vessel was temporarily stopped by ice and bad weather, its captain said Friday.

It may take two more days for the Xue Long, or Snow Dragon, to reach the stranded ship MV Akademik Shokalskiy, Capt. Wang Jiangzhong told CNN.

It had been expected to arrive by Friday.

"Right now we are waiting for winds to blow ice away so we can move closer," Wang said.

Chris Turney -- a professor of climate change at the University of New South Wales in Australia and leader of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition aboard the MV Akademik Shokalskiy -- said winds around the vessel were blowing 30 mph with gusts as high as 45 mph.

"We are actually in a blizzard at the moment," Turney reported via Twitter.

Turney said the ship was surrounded by ice as thick as 3 feet at a small, steep rocky island near Cape de la Motte, about 100 nautical miles (115 statute miles) east of the French antarctic scientific Dumont d'Urville Station, where the 2005 documentary "March of the Penguins" was filmed, and about 1,500 nautical miles (1,726 statute miles) south of Hobart, Australia, the Tasmanian capital.

Britain's Guardian newspaper reported two of its staff were onboard, covering the Spirit of Mawson, an effort to retrace a 1911 expedition by Australian geologist Douglas Mawson.

The MV Akademik Shokalskiy, a 233-foot ice-strengthened cruise ship, was built in 1982. It has been at sea since Dec. 8, when it left Bluff, New Zealand's southernmost town, the same town Mawson left Dec. 2, 1911.

The scientists and tourists have been repeating and extending many of Mawson's wildlife and weather observations, hoping to build a picture of how parts of the Antarctic Circle have changed in the past century.

The ship is trapped in "a very remote location, so it is not your everyday search-and-rescue mission," Australian Maritime Safety Authority spokeswoman Andrea Hayward-Maher told NBC News.

Hayward-Maher, whose agency is coordinating the rescue, said she believed the 52 explorers and tourists and 22 crew members were not in immediate danger.

China's Xue Long, as well as two other icebreakers, France's Astrolabe and Australia's Aurora Australis, are racing toward the Shokalskiy at full throttle, she said.

On its way back to Bluff, the crew plans to stop the ship at Macquarie Island, halfway between Antarctica and New Zealand, so the scientists can do some wildlife, oceanography and climate research, the Guardian said.

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