Stranded Antarctica passengers dock in Hobart

LEAD scientists on a private Antarctic expedition that prompted a multi-national rescue after its ship became stuck in sea ice for 10 days say they wouldn't change a thing if they were to make the trip again.

Passengers rescued from the stricken Akademik Sholalskiy arrived in Hobart aboard the Aurora Australis this morning.

The group of 52 are a mix of scientists, media and private ``citizen scientists'' who paid more than $8000 a-piece to take part in the Spirit of Mawson voyage, with the aim of discovering what changes were taking place in the Southern Ocean and Commonwealth Bay in Antarctica as a result of climate change.

Freshly scrubbed and shaved, expedition leaders Professor Chris Turney and Dr Chris Fogwill fronted an international press-pack in Hobart to defend their mission.

Professor Turney said the ship was attempting to leave Cape Denison in Commonwealth Bay, heading toward Hodgman Island, when it became trapped.

``This was an area where we have had satellite imagery, good weather observations, and we made our way into that area to test the idea of some of the impacts of that massive extended sea ice going into an area where there wasn't massive extended sea ice,'' Professor Turney said.

``Unfortunately, at the end of the day, as we all know, the plot changed.''

Professor Turney said the sea ice came up quite quickly, and the captain of the ship decided to alert rescue authorities after noticing iceberg activity in the area, which could be dangerous to the ship.

``This was a massive breakout of ice that caught the ship,'' he said.

``Unfortunately it's the risk you have of operating in Antarctica.''

Passengers were airlifted by a Chinese helicopter to the Aurora Australis on January 3, after three earlier failed rescue attempts. The Sholalskiy and its crew broke free of the ice on January 8.

Professor Turney and Dr Fogwill thanked the crew of the Sholalskiy and the four ships that took part in the rescue effort, but said there was nothing they could have changed about the expedition to avoid what happened.

``It's an inherent risk of working in Antarctica. It's not something we were looking for, but it happened,'' Professor Turney said.

``We would like to do another expedition someday, but I think at the moment we're happy to be home.''

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