Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Aid Coming To Scientists In Antarctic

SYDNEY, Australia -- An American icebreaker is steaming through pack ice in 24-hour midwinter darkness to bring tons of food and supplies to 38 marooned Russians facing starvation at an Antarctic research base.

It's a case of East meets West, mitten to mitten, in the only place on Earth where, ironically, the Cold War was never an issue. All the nations working in Antarctica have aided each other in emergencies for decades.

The U.S. National Science Foundation is sending its primary research ship, the 92-meter icebreaker Nathaniel B. Palmer, to bring emergency rations to the Russians at Mirny base, which is due to run out of food around June 15.

The Nathaniel B. Palmer reported it was diverted Saturday from a trip to study currents in the southern Indian Ocean, and hoped to reach pack ice near Mirny base on Monday or Tuesday.

The Russians are surveying the thick icepack to find the nearest possible landing for the vessel, which expects to tie up about 30 kilometers from Mirny. Russian surface vehicles will haul 4 to 6 tons of supplies to the base.

The ship is receiving guidance from satellite photos and radar analysis of the sea ice from the National Ice Center in Washington, and the Arctic and Antarctic Research institute in St. Petersburg.

Mirny is also the resupply point for Russia's Vostok base, 800 kilometers inland near the Pole of Inaccessibility, the coldest spot on Earth, where a multi-national ice-drilling project is under way.

The National Science Foundation said next summer's drilling program at Vostok could be threatened if Mirny base could not be resupplied. Vostok, once a year-round base and the pride of the Russian Antarctic program, is now closed in winter due to lack of funds.

The Russians at Mirny were stranded after their only resupply ship, the Akademik Fyodorov, was hobbled first by financial troubles, then by engineering problems. It is now running at just 70 percent propulsion capacity, National Science Foundation officials reported.

The Akademik Fyodorov, running late in its resupply schedule, is now some 2,000 kilometers west of Mirny, restocking the Russian base at Molodyozhnaya.

Vasily Zusman, an official at the Arctic and Antarctic Institute in St. Petersburg, told The Moscow Times in April that the ship was to have left St. Petersburg for Antarctica in late December.

But financial troubles delayed the launch, and when the final payment of $900,000 failed to arrive, the boat left without it on Feb. 27, Zusman said.

"The Finance Ministry promised to send the money around the time the team was scheduled to arrive in Cape Town [South Africa] on April 1,'' Zusman told the paper.

But he said the money ended up going not to Cape Town but into St. Petersburg city coffers.

The Nathaniel P. Palmer is being diverted from a study of the circulation of the world's oceans, a cruise that began in South Africa and will end in Hobart, Australia.

The food it leaves at Mirny will tide the Russians over until the Akademik Fyodorov arrives with the main bulk of supplies.