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Shackleton redux: Russian group endures similar freezing fate

Jan 1, 2003

Nearly 90 years after Ernest Shackleton and his hearty crew were frozen into the ice in Antarctica and dragged their lifeboats across the ice to the open sea, a group of Russian mariners and scientists found themselves in the unlikely position of recreating the epic journey, however unwillingly. The icebreaker Magdalena Oldendorff, a German-owned ship chartered by a Russian research team, was making a final resupply and crew rotation in early Antarctic winter. Having departed Cape Town in late April, the vessel was attempting to return to the open ocean, when it became trapped by ice too thick to navigate.

Once becoming trapped, along with 107 scientists, the 33-person crew requested assistance, stating that the ship had food reserves for 20 days. A dramatic rescue evolved,effected by the South African icebreaker SA Agulhas, which steamed for the ship's vicinity and airlifted all scientists and all but an essential crew from the stricken ship. Agulhas arrived in Cape Town to a hero's welcome on July 10. Meanwhile, conditions at the ship were continuing to deteriorate at press time as the Antarctic winter closed in; storms racked the ship, twilight had diminished to fewer than 90 minutes each day and temperatures were well below minus 20° Celsius.

The captain was roundly criticized for failing to follow orders from the home office regarding a navigable route. He reportedly directed the 570-foot, 18,600-ton ship, chartered by the St. Petersburg-based Russian Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute, toward older, thicker ice, against a recommendation to sail toward newer ice that is reportedly easier to break. To view photos of the icebound Magdalena and rescue ships that will strike terror in your heart, visit www.maritimesa.co.za. Or follow progress of the adventure at www.70south.com, a site dedicated to news and comment of Antarctic exploration.