Mission leaders defend ice trip

IT WASN'T quite the trip they signed up for.

Two weeks after they were scheduled to return to port in New Zealand, 52 passengers of the Spirit of Mawson private research expedition disembarked the Aurora Australis in Hobart, having left behind their own ship, the Akademik Shokalskiy, stuck in the ice.

The ship became stuck on Christmas Day while the group was examining the effects of a large glacial melt on sea ice floes, and passengers spent 10 days trapped before a successful rescue could be carried out, with the help of a tin of Milo to mark out the "H" for helipad.

Four countries were involved in the rescue efforts, which continued for five days after the passengers left to free the ship and crew.

International media converged on Hobart yesterday to hear freshly scrubbed and shaved expedition leaders Professor Chris Turney and Dr Chris Fogwill defend their mission.

Professor Turney said the ship was attempting to leave Cape Denison in Commonwealth Bay, heading towards 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.

Sydney woman Kerry Tozer was one of about two dozen "citizen scientists" who paid more than $8000 for the privilege of being on the trip.

She said it was worth every penny. "Most of us were just thinking, this is the kind of experience we're probably never ever going to have again, so let's just make the best of it that we can," she said.

"It was incredible, absolutely amazing."

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