Ice breaker Aurora Australis still in ice heading south west at 0530AEDT on 3 Jan 2014 – what is going on ?

Late yesterday The Australasian Antarctic Expedition (AAE) people were transferred to the Aurora Australis by the helicopter from the Chinese ice breaker the Xue Long. You might expect after several days of frustrating delays they might have hit the track for Casey pronto after loading on the 2nd Jan.
According to the ships webcam – not so.

As of 5.30am 3rd Jan 2014 the Aurora Australis webcam showed the ship heading south west – yes south west and still pretty much circumscribed by a decent quota of wall to wall ice. And no sign of a large clear track from the stern camera. Presumably they are seeking the best track to clear water.
10am the webcam shows the ship heading nor-north west still in wall to wall ice.
AAD media 3 Jan 14 – no mention ship is still obstructed.
1330AEDT still in ice heading SW again.

27 thoughts on “Ice breaker Aurora Australis still in ice heading south west at 0530AEDT on 3 Jan 2014 – what is going on ?”

  1. AMSA Media statement – 4.30pm AEDT Friday 03 January 2014
    Aurora Australis on standby as a precautionary measure
    Xue Long notified AMSA at 1pm AEDT this afternoon it has concerns about their ability to move through heavy ice in the area.
    The Aurora Australis has been placed on standby by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority’s (AMSA) Rescue Coordination Centre Australia (RCC Australia) to remain in open water in the area as a precautionary measure.
    The Xue Long has advised RCC Australia that it will attempt to manoeuvre through the ice when tidal conditions are most suitable during the early hours of 4 January 2014.
    There is no immediate danger to personnel on board the Xue Long.
    Please keep an eye on AMSA’s Twitter feed @AMSA_News for updates.

  2. Warwick, it might be useful to wait for all the facts before offering ill-informed opinions. Aurora Australis is not obstructed, so why would AAD media say it is.

    AA has been asked by rescue coordinator, AMSA, to remain in the area given Xue Long’s predicament.

  3. Xue Long’s predicament has not just happened – it has been talked about in the media for days. I find it amazing that it takes AMSA to step in when Aurora Australis is a few hours away from getting clear and heading for Casey.

  4. The katabatic winds off Antarctica cause ocean upwelling of relatively warm water around the shore. Hence open water near shore often with extensive sea ice further out to sea,

    Keep an eye on this. Last year we saw about a million sq km increase in the Antarctic sea ice anomaly around the summer solstice. This year we see the start of a similar trend but off a million sq km greater baseline.

    Albedo rules the climate.

  5. French polar chief derides Antarctic cruise as a jaunt
    The head of France’s polar science institute voiced fury on Friday at the misadventures of a Russian ship trapped in Antarctic ice, deriding what he called a tourists’ trip that had diverted resources from real science.

    In an interview with AFP, Yves Frenot, director of the French Polar Institute, said he had no issue at all with rescuing those aboard the stricken vessel.

    But, he said, the trip itself was a “pseudo-scientific expedition” that, because it had run into difficulties, had drained resources from the French, Chinese and Australian scientific missions in Antarctica.

    “There’s no reason to place Antarctica off-limits and to keep it just for scientists, but this tourism has to be monitored and regulated so that operators can be sure of getting help if need be,” he said.

    The Russian vessel, the Akademik Shokalskiy, became stuck on December 24 in frozen seas, 100 nautical miles east of the French Antarctic base, Dumont d’Urville.

    Its 52 passengers — scientists, tourists and journalists — were airlifted on Thursday to an Australian government supply vessel, the Aurora Australis, using a helicopter from a Chinese icebreaker, the Xue Long.

    But the Xue Long itself may now be trapped in the ice, and the Aurora Australis has been placed on standby to see if the Chinese ship needs help.

    In addition, a French Antarctic vessel, the Astrolabe, which resupplies Dumont d’Urville during the Antarctic summer between October and March was requisitioned for a week to help in the rescue operation.

    The trip on the Akademik Shokalskiy was aimed at emulating a 1911-1914 expedition by the Australian explorer, Sir Douglas Mawson.

    “This kind of commemorative expedition has no interest from a scientific point of view,” said Frenot.

    Because of the rescue operations, French scientists had had to scrap a two-week oceanographic campaign this month using the Astrolabe, said Frenot.

    “But we are relatively lucky,” he said.

    “The Chinese have had to cancel all their scientific programme, and my counterpart in Australia is spitting tacks with anger, because their entire summer has been wiped out.”

    Antarctica has around 80 scientific bases, of which around 40 are permanently staffed and others manned on a seasonal or temporary basis.

    Only three bases are inland; the others are on the coast.

    “If we want these bases to operate all year round, it is essential to resupply with food and fuel during the brief window of opportunity,” Frenot said.

    Diverting supply ships to rescue tasks “imperilled” this link, he said.

  6. wazsah, we all know that Xue Long’s predicament has been reported over past days. Perhaps you don’t understand that AMSA doesn’t coordinate these operations without consultation with the ships involved. Why don’t you check the latest from AMSA. It’s a bit of a bore that you continue to slam everyone when you’re not privy to the continuing communication between the major players here. You’re not part of the inner circle, wazsah. Accept that.

  7. If you are bored here Gina then you do not have to look in.
    I have been checking a few times a day for AMSA updates – knowing that a significant impulse of Govt Depts is to be secretive – I accept and expect that all we are told by AMSA and AAD are crumbs. But like any taxpayer I am entitled to look for crumbs anywhere they may fall. Although Xue Long’s possible predicament has been mentioned in the media for days – it has been just qualified chat – nothing was confirmed until the AMSA update 4.30pm yesterday which was at a time the Aurora Australis was making her glacial slow zig-zag progress towards the south west – away from the Xue Long. The timing was probably pure coincidence.
    Now the Aurora Australis has been released from the area by AMSA questions are raised that I hope we get answers to eventually. Such as – what communications took place over the several days between AA and XL ? I just hope that it was impossible for the AA to have assisted XL yesterday and that XL understands that.

  8. wazsah, wazsah, wazsah not everything is a conspiracy. We don’t need to know verbatim what communications took place between captains of XL and AA. We know that they were talking because, apart from anything else, they needed to arrange transfer of passengers. XL has said it is not in danger and that it no longer requires AA to stay around. Not all communications in this incident were through third parties. And another thing, the time on AA that you have mentioned is not AEDT. It’s at 67 degrees south, very different from AEDT. To be honest, wazsah, it’s not all boring but the overload of negativity does wear a bit thin.

  9. Gina – Sure, we don’t know much about what is going on, and speculation may be wrong or unfair to one or another participant in all this. But these problems would not arise if we had been properly informed about what was going on down there. It was a big deal – a large number of people trapped for a long time in dangerous circumstances, massive disruption to normal programmes, plus the irony of global warmers trapped in ice. Yet the information flow was lousy. AMSA’s bulletins were clear but sparse. The Fairfax “blog” went silent for 48 hours. A lot of stupid gurning from Turney. The ABC silent as a mouse most of the time.

    Thank heavens the French Antarctic boss has finally spoken out about this shambles. I could not agree more with him. A “pseudo-scientific expedition” that drained resources from scientific missions and had no interest from a scientific point of view. Quite! As he says there needs to much tighter control of such junkets, and this applies not only to Antarctic global warming pantomimes but all manner of other risky activities that people do for kicks, or publicity, or self-aggrandizement, and that end up costing the rest of us a packet.

  10. David, in fact AMSA kept everyone informed through its website regarding any changes. AMSA was coordinating the operation. That’s its job. So we can’t claim to be left entirely in the dark. The real problem arises when people jump to conclusions. Re the ABC, there are at least 17 online stories, the story was carried daily on radio and TV news bulletins and 7.30 also did a story. Hardly evidence of it being “silent as a mouse most of the time.” Fairfax’s blog likely went silent because AA Comms probably had more pressing matters to contend with at the time. The reason Turney was pumping out so much was he took a Bgan along on the expedition enabling him to whatever/whenever. He explained this some time ago. But, yes, it has been very tedious watching his antics. I also agree with Yves Frenot’s comments about Turney’s expedition being (largely) pseudo science and the fact that this debacle has had a severe impact on the Antarctic programs of three countries who are in Antarctica for science. There certainly should be tighter regulation and closer scrutiny of these types of expeditions in the future.

  11. Gina – thanks for clarifications, all fair points although I still feel the ABC/Fairfax were pretty quiet when the crisis was at its height.

    I notice the Antarctic Division is now speaking out a little bit []: “The…Division…declined to say whether it was advisable for a ship to enter the area, as the Shokalskiy did for several days before becoming stuck on Christmas Eve….”I think it’s principally a matter for ships’ captains,” said the division’s acting director, Jason Mundy. “But it’s certainly been a challenging operating environment in recent years.”…”It’s fair to say the space our program has for further unexpected events is much diminished this year,” Mr Mundy said. He said work programs on the Antarctic continent had been scheduled around the absence of Aurora, which was yet to unload 30 per cent of its cargo at Casey, several days’ steaming from the rescue site….”Some was scientific equipment relating to programs around Casey and we’re currently looking at how we can best cover off on that, perhaps by flying it off…”

    The Chinese disrupted their own programme too to come to the rescue with the Xue Long, at the cost of getting stuck themselves.

  12. David, I think the Antarctic Division must have held a news conference yesterday as the ABC and several other networks had vision of the acting director speaking on their news.

    The Division also put out a media release:

    Turney’s expedition has caused major disruption and expense to everyone involved which is most unfortunate.

    Countries doing science in Antarctica spend a long time planning their seasons. It’s only during the summer that they can do a lot of their work, so something like this can be devastating for their overall programs. Some projects may have to be delayed until next year, some may need to be abandoned altogether. Quite shocking really.

  13. Apologies Gina but I just wanted to look back over this entire costly emergency and question if with hindsight things could have been handled better.
    Let us remember that the MV Akademik Shokalskiy originally put out a “distress” call that was picked up in Falmouth UK and relayed to AMSA – the original text as received in Falmouth has not been published.
    Issue A – How did Falmouth get into the loop and what message did they receive ? I thought AMSA ran a “round the clock” operation. Akademik Shokalskiy had been in the Australian search and rescue zone for some time so the Captain should have known who to contact.
    Issue B – IMHO it is obvious that Akademik Shokalskiy and passengers were never in distress – just delayed and inconvenienced. So AMSA could have downgraded the situation and let the unloading at Casey be completed – then Aurora Australis could have been sent to Mertz if required. What was the huge rush ?
    Issue C – AMSA update 9, 7.30am AEDT: 2nd January 2014 in the 8th para says [The Aurora Australis will then use its barge to transfer all 52 passengers on board their vessel. The barge can take up to 22 people at a time. The journey between the Xue Long and the Aurora Australis is a distance of about two nautical miles.]
    Assuming there was water to float the barge in – how extensive was this water ? Does anybody have pictures of this water ?
    Why did the ice breakers not move into this water ?
    There was no sign of any “mile or two” of water anywhere on the 3rd when Aurora Australis was nudging her way out.
    Perhaps the barge was to be dragged as a sleigh.
    Issue D – On the night of the 2nd once it was clear the helicopter transfers were a success – it would be interesting to know what communications passed between the ice breaker skippers. Considering for a moment the entirety of Chinese relations with their Southern Quarry – not to mention AAD relating to an expanding Chinese footprint in the Antarctic.
    So at the risk of annoying Gina – I hoped a conversation to this effect took place.

    Gidday mate, that all went well with your chopper, can you move over there ? Or are you locked in?
    Just between you and me Aussie we can not move.
    As you probably know, we will be heading back to Casey with the AAE people – but before we go we could try for six or eight hours and see if we could make progress breaking ice towards you.

    What we do know is that AMSA update 12 at 4.30pm AEDT Friday 03 January 2014 – at a time when Aurora Australis was slowly zig-zagging her way to the SW – said –

    Aurora Australis on standby as a precautionary measure

    Xue Long notified AMSA at 1pm AEDT this afternoon it has concerns about their ability to move through heavy ice in the area.
    The Aurora Australis has been placed on standby by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority’s (AMSA) Rescue Coordination Centre Australia (RCC Australia) to remain in open water in the area as a precautionary measure.
    The Xue Long has advised RCC Australia that it will attempt to manoeuvre through the ice when tidal conditions are most suitable during the early hours of 4 January 2014.

    People can make their own minds up as to how closely the two ice breaker skippers understood about one anothers problems and plans.

  14. The original intent WAS to transport the stranded party by “barge” once they were delivered on the ice in close proximity to the Aurora by helicopter. However, as mentioned above, there was no open water even close to the Aurora and the ship was surrounded by ice entirely. Having followed these events rather closely, especially the still and video footage, I observed when the people left the helicopter, they then walked a couple of hundred yards to the ship, where the ships crew had lowered a life boat on cables attached to davits down the side of ship, landing it on the ice, or holding a little suspended, right next to the ship. The people simply stepped into the “barge” ie: life boat, and we’re hoisted aboard the Aurora,stepped from life boat onto a dry steel deck without even getting their feet damp. Hope this clears up the question of any two mile voyage in open water in a so called “barge”.

  15. Interesting thought Alaskan – but look here are paras 6, 7 & 8 from the AMSA update 9 –
    [The passengers will be rescued by helicopter in groups of 12 and will be initially transported to the Xue Long. The rescue is expected to be undertaken in a total of seven flights. The first five flights will rescue
    passengers and the remaining two flights will transfer luggage and equipment.
    Each return flight is expected to take about 45 minutes. The journey will cover a distance of about 12 nautical miles between the MV Akademik Shokalskiy and the Xue Long. The helicopter component of the rescue operation is expected to take at least five hours dependent on weather conditions.
    The Aurora Australis will then use its barge to transfer all 52 passengers on board their vessel. The
    barge can take up to 22 people at a time. The journey between the Xue Long and the Aurora Australis is
    a distance of about two nautical miles.]

    To me it reads is if somebody thought there was going to be a barge trip on water for these people – at least at the time the above was written.

  16. Wazsah

    Like Alaskan, I thought the “barge transfer” might have just meant lifting them from the ice onto the Aurora in a vessel after they got off the helicopter, which is what happened. However, it is clear from update 9 that this wasn’t the plan. The passengers were instead going to be rescued by helicopter to the Xue Long and then transferred by barge to the Aurora – not what happened at all.

    Interesting points about the “distress” call. The passengers were obviously distressed, but whether it was a marine safety issue sufficient to justify a dangerous rescue operation is rather doubtful. Yet another reason to control much more tightly these publicity stunt tours in dangerous environments, and at the least make them pay hefty insurance to cover the risks that this sort of thing might happen. Kiddies, and anyone else likely to generate “rescue” risks just because the ship gets stuck, should be banned entirely. Also fair to wonder if the Aurora might have helped the Xue Long if not for its 52 distressed civvies on board. All in all, full public enquiry needed.

  17. wazsah, yes, there are some issues there and I don’t have the answers. Re AS, it’s only ice-strengthened and perhaps with the sudden besetment it was concerned about its safety if things were to get worse. AMSA can only act on information it receives. If it didn’t respond and a catastrophe occurred then AMSA would be criticised for that.

    The thing is that in Antarctica weather and sea ice can change very quickly. Sea ice is tricky stuff and can be pushed around significantly by winds. What looks possible one day can become impossible the next. So I’m thinking the original plan of heli transfer to XL, then barge over water to AA became impossible when weather turned and ice moved. When vision improved they had to rethink and go with what was most expedient at the time. At least for AA, it’s been able to move on. Still, XL remains stuck and now the US has had to disrupt its own schedule. All extremely unfortunate.

    However, given that accessibility to C’wealth Bay has been known to be very difficult in recent years, perhaps the voyage leaders should have been more cautious in going in so close.

  18. @Wazsah

    “All in all, full public enquiry needed”

    Never going to happen – too much embarrassment all round

    The best we will see is a dicky little report completely expurgated of relevant, pointed facts – eg. WHO was towing the Argo when it was submersed, causing the cumulative lateness back to the AA, in turn trapping the ship in ice

    That we know this happened is down to Janet Rice naively blogging this on the day, although she didn’t identify the careless one. Nor will any public report

  19. PS I see “Marine Traffic” shows the Xue Long broke out a few hours ago, presumably under its own steam as Polar Star can’t have got there yet. It was supposed to be an icebreaker itself of course.

  20. I suppose the Xue Long skipper and officers are extra glad to be free before the US Coast Guard arrives. They might have questions to face from above as it is.

  21. Those involved will remember Professor Turney and the disruption he caused for some considerable time.

    Started Christmas Eve did it; didn’t Charles Dickens say on that day “What a turkey! You never saw such a turkey in your life”.

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