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White Christmas: High spirits on trapped ship

By Naomi Ng for CNN
December 27, 2013 -- Updated 0721 GMT (1521 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • An expedition vessel has been stuck in frozen seas off Antarctica this week
  • Three ice-breaking rescue ships are expected to reach the trapped vessel by Friday night
  • Expedition leader, Chris Turney: High morale of people onboard kept everyone going
  • Turney: "We've got a large team coming to help us, it's incredible"

Hong Kong (CNN) -- For most of this week, the 74 people aboard the Russian expedition vessel MV Akademik Shokalskiy have been at a standstill -- trapped in the frozen seas off Antarctica.

But the crew, researchers and tourists are taking their icy week in stride.

The Russian vessel became locked in sea ice since Christmas Eve. Despite the cutting wind and freezing temperatures, Chris Turney, expedition leader and professor of climate change at University of New South Wales in Australia said morale has been high throughout and they had a "great Christmas," though everyone was frustrated about not being able to venture out into the open ocean.

"We had a fantastic Christmas dinner, including secret Santa presents. It was important to keep the morale up," he said.

"There was ham and turkey, the chefs cooked a great meal for us. It was a welcome respite from the conditions outside," he added.

Others on board also seemed to be having an enjoyable time despite the icy weather conditions.

Alok Jha, a science correspondent at the Guardian who was also en route to Antarctica with the Australasian Antarctic Expedition said there was no shortage of the Christmas spirit.

That was before a blizzard hit Thursday afternoon, which Turney described as the hardest part.

"We were experiencing a blizzard with winds up to 70 kilometers per hour. Snow was building up on the edge of the vessel and it was quite disconcerting. But, overall, people have been brilliant and as positive as can be, given the circumstances," he said.

Currently, the ship awaits rescue from the Chinese ice breaker called the Snow Dragon, or Xue Long, that is expected to arrive later on Friday according to Turney, who spoke with the captain of the Chinese vessel.

"I just took a call from the Chinese vessel, Snow Dragon. They've made tremendous progress, and we're extremely appreciative," he said.

Help is also coming via a French vessel called Astrolabe and an Australian ship, the Aurora Australis. The Australian Maritime Safety Authority who are coordinating a rescue said both ships are on their way to the stranded passengers.

After two and a half days of waiting, Turney said the team spirit has kept them going.

"At the moment we've got very good visibility, winds have dropped," Turney said. "We've got a large team coming to help us, it's incredible. Morale is good and we just want to reassure family and friends that we're well," he added.

Meanwhile, Turney and the crew are kept company with cute, unexpected visitors in the Antarctic as they continue with their scientific research.

"It's great. Where you are in the most remote location in the world, they turn up, having a look to see what's going and then drift off after a while. They're wonderful company to have about," he said.

The expedition is retracing the footsteps of scientific explorer Douglas Mawson's 100-year-old trek to study the Antarctic region.

Turney said everyone aboard the expedition vessel is scheduled to return to southern New Zealand by January 4.

READ: Antarctic ship trapped in sea ice should be rescued by Friday

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