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South African Vessel Attempts to Rescue Icebound Ship in Antarctica - 2002-06-26

A South African Antarctic research vessel is on its way to help a vessel icebound in Antarctica. The SA Agulhas has started its 240 kilometer journey south through the Antarctic pack ice in order to get as close as possible to the Magdalena Oldendorff, a trapped German vessel carrying 107 Russian scientists and crew.

The Magdalena Oldendorff was bringing the Russian scientists from the Russian Antarctic research station back to South Africa at the end of the summer research season on Antarctica. Antarctic research stations send most of their researchers off-site for the winter months.

The captain of the Agulhas, Kevin Tate, said he is hoping an Argentinean ice-breaker will reach the Agulhas soon so his ship can either get to the trapped vessel or get close enough to use helicopters to rescue the scientists and crew. Captain Tate said the ice-breaker, the Almirante Irizar, will be essential in any attempt to free the Magdalena Oldendorff from the pack ice.

It took the South African vessel nine days to reach the edge of the pack ice. It had to sail nearly 4,000 kilometers through high winds and seas of up to nine meters. At times, the Agulhas was traveling six kilometers an hour.

The Agulhas is the support vessel for South Africa's own research station on Antarctica. At the start of the Antarctic summer it takes the scientists to the station along with necessary food, scientific, maintenance and other supplies. As winter looms, the Agulhas once again heads south to bring back the summer's accumulated waste along with most South African researchers.

But in addition to their regular duties, Captain Tate, his crew and the Agulhas are often called on to assist in rescue operations. Since December, the Agulhas has rendered assistance to the Antarctic programs of six countries, including Japan, India and the United Kingdom.