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Antarctica: Shokalskiy Rescue Bid Launched

The latest attempt to rescue the passengers on a research ship trapped by Antarctic ice since Christmas Eve has resumed after being delayed by ice.
They were being flown by helicopter from the MV Akademik Shokalskiy to an ice floe next to an Australian icebreaker, and then taken by a small boat to the ship.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority's Rescue Coordination Centre, which is overseeing the rescue, confirmed the first group had arrived on Thursday evening.

Expedition leader Professor Chris Turney said: "I think everyone is relieved and excited to be going on to the Australian icebreaker and then home."

A helicopter will carry the passengers a dozen at a time in an operation expected to take five hours.

The Aurora will then take them to Tasmania, arriving around mid-January.

A helicopter had been expected to airlift passengers to a Chinese icebreaker, the Snow Dragon, on New Year's Day and a barge would then ferry them to the Aurora.

However, before the operation could begin, sea ice had blocked the path of the barge that needed to make it from the Australian vessel to the Snow Dragon.

And because the Aurora is not built to handle a helicopter landing, the rescue was postponed.

The rescue operation for 52 scientists, tourists and crew on the Russian ship has been plagued by a number of problems.

Three icebreakers were initially dispatched to try to crack their way through the thick ice surrounding the ship, but all failed.

The Aurora came within 12 miles (20km) of the ship on Monday, but fierce winds and snow forced it to retreat to open water.

The Akademik Shokalskiy is not in danger of sinking, and there are supplies for those on board, but the vessel cannot move.

The 22 Russian crew members are expected to stay on board for as long as it takes to free the ship from the pack ice surrounding it.

It became stuck after a blizzard pushed the sea ice around it, freezing it in place about 1,700 miles (2,700km) south of Hobart, Tasmania.

The scientific team on board had been recreating Australian explorer Douglas Mawson's 1911 to 1913 voyage to Antarctica.

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