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Video: Ship passengers spend New Year's Eve on ice

A helicopter evacuation is the only option left to rescue 74 passengers on board the Russian vessel stuck in Antarctica as bad weather continues to prevent icebreaker ships reaching it.

The Aurora Australis attempted to reach the Akademik Shokalskiy yesterday but was driven back into open waters due to winds up to 30 knots and snow showers resulting in poor visibility, Australian Maritime Safety Authority spokeswoman Lisa Martin said.

The helicopter on board the Chinese flagged vessel Xue Long, which attempted the initial rescue, would now be used to rescue the passengers from the Akademik Shokalskiy.

The rescue would be a complex operation involving a number of steps and subject to factors such as weather, Martin said.

The helicopter was unable to fly in the current weather conditions, and would hold off on the rescue until conditions improved.

Weather conditions were unlikely to start improving until tomorrow and decisions related to carrying out the rescue may be made at short notice, Martin said.

An area for the helicopter to land has been marked on the ice near the Akademik Shokalskiy in preparation for the rescue.

All 52 passengers would leave the ship, and all 22 crew members were expected to remain on board.

The passengers would be rescued by helicopter in groups of 12 and would be initially transported to the Xue Long before being transferred to the Aurora Australis.

PARTY ON BOARD

Speaking to Fairfax Media from the Akademik Shokalskiy, the ship's doctor, Dr Andrew Peacock, said those on board had always known they would be on the ship for New Year's Eve, but thought they would be halfway back to New Zealand, not stranded in Antarctica.

"We will still enjoy celebrating," Peacock said.

"There will be a muted aspect to it, I think, but maybe tomorrow will bring some good news and hopefully a quick resolution.

"There has been a song devised for tonight's New Year's event, so people have been practising that."

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