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Spirits strong among passengers on ship stuck in Antarctic ice

By Tom Watkins and Ralph Ellis, CNN
December 31, 2013 -- Updated 1447 GMT (2247 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Some stranded on the Akademik Shokalskiy since Christmas have sent an upbeat message
  • YouTube video: "Lots of snow and lots of ice, lots of penguins, which are very, very nice!"
  • "The French dropped by, but couldn't get near. Bloody great shame we're still stuck here!"
  • A helicopter is expected to pick up 52 passengers, and the 22 crew members will stay aboard

(CNN) -- It may not be comparable to Gilligan's Island, but the plight of the 74 members of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition, aboard a research ship stuck in ice for more than a week at the bottom of the world, appeared anything but grim as 2014 approached.

"We're the A, A, E who have traveled far, having fun doing science in Antarctica!" a dozen or so of them sang on a video posted on YouTube. "Lots of snow and lots of ice, lots of penguins, which are very, very nice!"

The rhyme scheme then fell apart, but the festive mood did not: "Really good food and company, but a bloody great shame we are still stuck here! Ice cold, cha cha cha! Ice cold, cha cha cha!"

It was not all fun and games aboard the Russian-flagged MV Akademik Shokalskiy. After bad weather led the crew of the Australian icebreaker Aurora Australis to suspend efforts to reach the expedition Monday, less than 10 nautical miles short of its goal, more than two dozen of those aboard the research vessel ventured onto the surrounding ice, locked arms and proceeded to stomp on the snow to mark a spot where a helicopter from the Chinese icebreaker Xue Long, or Snow Dragon, can land.

Scientist speaks from trapped ship
Trapped ship makes evacuation plans
Chinese Icebreaker ship gets stuck during rescue

The helicopter, which can carry 12 people at a time, is expected to take the ship's 52 passengers -- including the research team and journalists -- to the Xue Long.

The Australian icebreaker that tried unsuccessfully to reach the research vessel will send a barge to pick them up from the Xue Long.

The 22 crew members of the Akademik Shokalskiy will stay aboard, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said.

But the timing of the rescue remained uncertain as weather Tuesday remained bad.

The failed attempt by the Australian icebreaker followed one by the Xue Long, which made it to within 6 nautical miles of the trapped vessel when its path was blocked by ice.

It returned to open water and remained in the area to provide support, said Andrea Hayward-Maher, a spokeswoman for the maritime authority.

The Akademik Shokalskiy has not moved since Christmas.

Chris Turney, an Australian professor of climate change at the University of New South Wales, told CNN that there are regular briefings on the status of rescue attempts, and in the meantime, people are doing what they can to keep busy. That includes yoga and Spanish classes.

The expedition to gauge the effects of climate change on the region began on November 27. The second and current leg of the trip started on December 8 and was scheduled to conclude with a return to New Zealand on January 4.

The vessel got stuck in the ice 15 days after setting out on the second leg.

Turney said the ship was surrounded by ice up to nearly 10 feet (3 meters) thick.

It was about 100 nautical miles east of the French base Dumont D'Urville, which is about 1,500 nautical miles south of Hobart, Tasmania.

On Christmas morning, the ship sent a satellite distress signal.

But by New Year's Eve, those aboard were showing few signs of distress. "Up in the air, the Chinese came, flew around once and left again!" they sang. "The French dropped by, but couldn't get near. Bloody great shame we're still stuck here!"

CNN's Josh Levs and Jamie Crawford contributed to this report.

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