Over the past few days the MV Akademik Shokalskiy, a Russian ship filled with almost 70 scientists, tourists and crew, has been stuck in the ice off Antarctica. They were on an Expeditions Online trip retracing the path of the famous expedition of Sir Douglas Mawson. He sailed aboard the SY Aurora, which at another point in her career encountered a situation like that met by the modern explorers. In 1915, while serving as a support ship for a crew laying supplies for Shackleton’s attempt to cross Antarctica, she was blown away from her anchorage in McMurdo Sound. She was caught in heavy ice, and was stuck there for the better part of a year.
Some things haven’t changed in the past 100 years, but much has. The Aurora was completely cut off from contact with the outside world. But 100 years later, when a ship is trapped, her crew can send out a call for help. Not long after Akademik Shokalskiy was trapped, three icebreakers set out from different directions to free her. Those aboard the trapped vessel have even been able to post video reports on the internet.
The Aurora, while carrying the Mawson expedition, had been fitted with new wireless equipment. But the range was very limited and could not be relied on. When she was trapped in the ice, she remained there for 315 days. The ice tightened its grip on the ship, and the crew gathered what supplies they had, ready to jump overboard if it seemed she was about to give. Finally she broke free, and with a makeshift rudder the men were able to get her back to New Zealand. She was refitted, and set out the next year to pick up the survivors of the shore party. We can hope that the story ends even better for the Akademik Shokalskiy.