Nighat Amin showing where the ship is stuck in sea ice - © International Polar Foundation

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Waiting for the ship

In spite of the great support provided by the Belgian Department of Defense to help it find a way out of the Antarctic pack ice, the Mary Arctica is still stuck.

The nice weather does not help us much to manoeuvre through the ice; the nicer the weather, the colder the temperature and the tighter the ice becomes around the ship. The most frustrating part about this situation is that the Mary Arctica is not far away at all: only about a hundred kilometers from the unloading site at Crown Bay. This is only a short sailing day for her under normal circumstances.

As I mentioned it before, the situation is challenging.

I don't like to complain all the time about the fact that we've run out of fresh food. Everyone is handling it well, without any complaints, waiting for better days. David, our cook who has recently arrived, works culinary miracles with the existing food stocks. However, we all missed having a beer on New Year’s Eve.

The most damaging consequence of the ship being stuck is a delay in the work plan:

  • The German scientists cannot start their field work without their two helicopters, instruments and research gear.
  • The IPF teams can only plan for daily tasks - very short-term jobs that can be dropped within the hour if they need to leave immediately to meet the ship to offload its cargo.

All of us are in stand-by mode and the convoy is parked in front of the station, ready to go at a moment's notice. It's an unusual sight!

What do we do in the meantime? Many small jobs and chores to keep us busy. But it is obvious that morale is not very high. We had worked so hard to be ready to meet the ship on December 23rd! To get rid of some stress, we've cleared the remaining snow off of the solar panels. Shovelful after shovelful, it's a way to focus on something to help us forget about the Mary Arctica situation for a while.

At least there's one group of people who are not directly affected by the difficult situation: the technical team for the “PEA Systems”, i.e. Johan, Erik, Karel, Régis and Craig. They're doing a great job fixing all issues related to the synchronization between the safety generator and the entire DPMS grid (Demand Power Management System). And because we have 23 people stuck at the station, our chemical engineer Jacob is quite busy optimizing the water sub-system to allow all waste water generated by such a group to be treated.

To close this update, I ought to mention a word about our New Year's activities. We had a nice party (even without beer) followed by a pleasant New Year's Day on Sunday visiting various spots around Princess Elisabeth. Some went on skidoos; some went on foot or on skis. The final treat of the day was an evening flight in the ultralight aircraft.

Author: Alain Hubert

Picture: Nighat Amin showing where the ship is stuck in sea ice - © International Polar Foundation

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