SA ship sets sail for Antarctic rescue mission

A South African rescue team bound for the icy Antarctic continent will sail from the Port of Cape Town on Sunday in a bid to save 107 people trapped there aboard an ice-bound ship.

The Antarctic Logistics Centre International (ALCI) said on Saturday that the trapped vessel, the 18000 ton Magdalena Oldendorff, was currently positioned in the Muskegbukta fjord.

The fjord is some 400km away from an inland Russian research base but it is close to the old South African Antarctic base.

There are 71 Russian scientists and 36 German crew aboard the ship, anxiously awaiting the arrival of the SA Agulhas, a South African ice-strengthened research vessel, ALCI said.

They have enough food rations for approximately 20 days.

According to the latest situation report from the Magdalena Oldendorff’s captain, the vessel is in a position of relative safety and will attempt to moor alongside the fast ice.

On June 11, the ship’s captain reported that his vessel had come across a 40-50 miles wide ice belt on its way back home from Novolazarevskaya station in north-east Antarctica.

The captain said the vessel was unable to cross the ice-belt so it headed back to Antarctica and positioned itself safely in the fjord.

The SA Agulhas will head towards the icy continent carrying two air force helicopters, 37 crew members, 12 helicopter personnel, an ice pilot and a doctor.

It will take approximately seven days to travel the 1 840 nautical miles from Cape Town to the ice edge, but the trapped vessel is 510 nautical miles away from this edge.

ALCI said the Agulhas, with a Russian oceanologist on board acting as the ice pilot, will proceed through the ice as far as possible.

Should the Agulhas be unable to make the journey to the trapped vessel, she will await the arrival of the Argentinean ice breaker, the Almirante Irizar.

The Almirante Irizar is scheduled to depart from Buenos Aires on June 19, and will assist the Agulhas in its bid to free the trapped vessel.

If the Argentinean and South African rescue vessels are unable to free the ship, the helicopters will remove those on board and leave the vessel there for the winter.

The Antarctic presently enjoys only four hours of daylight in a 24 hour period, but ALCI said the Agulhas crew are experienced in working in harsh arctic conditions. - Sapa

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