Happy ending after ordeal in Antarctic

Dec 23, 2002
Author: P&S

Magdalena Oldendorff, the German ice strengthened supply ship stranded by thick ice in Antarctica since July 2002, finally reached Cape Town on Friday 20 December.

The 18,627-gt ship, with 17 crew on board including an Argentine doctor transferred from the Argentine Navy icebreaker Almirante Irizar in August, arrived in the Mother City to a warm welcome.
Along the way the ship made contact with the South African Antarctic supply ship SA Agulhas, which was on her way south on her summer supply cruise to the Sanae IV base. The two ships met in the ice on Friday, 13 December for the transfer of additional crew to Magdalena Oldendorff, as well as some stores and spares. On the previous day the German ship met with the Russian icebreaker Akademik Federov for the transfer of fuel and other stores.

Magdalena Oldendorff left Cape Town on charter in April to supply several Russian research stations along the Antarctic coast on behalf of the Russian Arctic & Antarctic Research Institute. The ship also uplifted 79 scientists who were returning home via Cape Town, but unfortunately the ship delayed too long and became trapped behind thick ice, forcing her to seek shelter in Muskegbukta Bay, one of the few protected places along the coast where pack ice usually doesn't penetrate.

The reason why the ship delayed leaving the ice long after other supply ships had left Antarctic waters ice isn't perfectly clear, although it seems a decision was made to linger and enable the ice to harden sufficiently for heavy equipment to be discharged. There were reports at the time that the ship had engine trouble, although ship management company Egon Oldendorff has never confirmed this.
Two attempts at rescuing the ship by SA Agulhas and Almirante Irizar proved unsuccessful, but South African Air Force helicopters flying from the SA Agulhas made a number of successful trips across about 200 n.miles of intervening ice to take off eighty-nine of the scientists and non-essential crew, after which the South African ship returned to Cape Town.

The next ship to arrive was the powerful icebreaker Almirante Irizar, with 175 personnel on board including an experienced army ice patrol and a representative of Oldendorff. The Argentine ship reached Magdalena Oldendorff on 19 July after having navigated through heavy storms and 15m waves. However the breakout attempt proved unsuccessful as thick ice restricted speed to 2 knots, making manoeuvring difficult and dangerous for Magdalena Oldendorff. Both ships returned to Muskegbukta Bay.

Meanwhile the Swedish icebreaker Oden, which was on standby in the Atlantic Ocean to assist if necessary, was released and returned to the Baltic.

Almirante Irizar subsequently broke out of the ice pack on her own and returned to a hero's welcome in Buenos Aires, having supplied the German ship with enough provisions to overwinter, as well as transferring across a navy doctor in case of emergencies. The remaining crew of Magdalena Oldendorff then bedded down for the long nights of winter.

On arrival in Cape Town the Argentine navy doctor who had remained with the ship had a surprise in store - his fiancÚ had flown specially to Cape Town from Buenos Aires to be with him.

Other crewmembers from Magdalena Oldendorff were expected to return to their homes in Russia, Finland, Ukraine, Poland, Ghana, Maldives, Philippines in time for Christmas.

After a refit in Cape Town Magdalena Oldendorff is returning to Antarctica in early January on another supply mission to the Indian Antarctic Base.

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