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All 52 passengers stranded on ice-bound ship transferred to safety

Jan. 2, 2014 at 7:55 AM

SYDNEY, Jan. 2 (UPI) -- The 52 passengers of a Russian cruise ship stranded in an antarctic ice pack were flown to safety Thursday by a Chinese helicopter, the rescue coordinator said.

The Akademik Shokalskiy has been stuck in the ice 100 nautical miles east of the French base Dumont d'Urville since Dec. 24 with a 22-person crew and 52 passengers, many of them scientists.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority, which coordinated the rescue, said it was advised that an Australian ship had received the passengers from the Akademik Shokalskiy, Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported. The passengers were flown in groups of 12 by a helicopter from a Chinese ice-breaker.

RIA Novosti said the Shokalskiy crew will remain on board to wait for warmer weather when the ship can be guided out of the ice.

The Akademik Shokalskiy became stuck as it retraced Sir Douglas Mawson's antarctic expedition of 101 years ago.

The rescue mission had been delayed because of weather conditions, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said.

Alvin Stone, a spokesman for Australasian Antarctic Expedition in Sydney, expressed relief.

"I think it was at that point where people were getting frustrated with what was going on," Stone said. "Now at last feel they can move on and the expedition can continue what it was supposed to do, or actually just get home, to be perfectly honest."

Chris Turney, a professor making the expedition, posted on his Twitter page: "We've made it to the Aurora Australis safe & sound. A huge thanks to the Chinese & @ausantarctic for all their hard work!"

The AMSA has said the passengers likely won't get back to Hobart, the capital of Tasmania state, until mid-January.

The Shokalskiy 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 sought to repeat and extend many of Mawson's wildlife and weather observations in the hope of building a picture of how parts of the Antarctic Circle have changed in the past century.

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