Australia’s flagship icebreaker Aurora Australis has broken free of its mooring lines at a station and run aground in frozen Antarctica, and attempts to rescue nearly 70 expeditioners and crew on board it have been hampered by a fierce blizzard.
According to authorities, the ship broke its mooring lines and ran aground on Wednesday at West Arm in Horseshoe Harbor in the Mawson Station.
The Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) said the 68 expeditioners and crew on board the vessel are all “safe and well.”
AAD director Nick Gales, meanwhile, said those aboard the ship will have to remain there until conditions ease and it becomes safe to move them over to Mawson Station, expressing hope that the weather conditions get better overnight.
It is currently impossible to fully assess the damage inflicted on the ship, but the division said there is a breach in the hull into a space that is usually flooded with ballast water. It said the ship was stable, however, and there was no risk of fuel leakage into the environment.
The Australian government has four stations in the Antarctic wilderness and Aurora Australis regularly travels from the city of Hobart on scientific and resupply voyages.
Antarctica is claimed by several countries, as it is believed to have huge mineral resources. Under a 1949 agreement, the frozen continent is designated a scientific preserve.
On Thursday, the Australian government announced a massive new investment on the country’s defense capabilities amid rising tensions in the Asia Pacific region.