The Australian icebreaker Aurora Australis has broken through the final few kilometres of heavy pack ice to reach the supply ship Polar Bird.

The break-out began this morning Australian Eastern Standard Time after an arduous 12 hours in which Aurora broke through the final 8 km of dense pack ice to rendezvous with the trapped vessel.

The General Manager of Operations for the Australian Antarctic Division, Mr Kim Pitt, said today that it was intended that Polar Bird follow Aurora very closely along a passage cleared through the close pack ice by the icebreaker.

“It’s by no means over yet, but we are cautiously optimistic,” Mr Pitt said.

During the morning Aurora broke up sheets of pack ice surrounding Polar Bird with the aim of enabling the supply ship to move under its own power.

Dr Eric Woehler, Australian Antarctic Division biologist aboard Aurora, said the final operation happened under clear Antarctic skies with a 7-knot southerly breeze, a sharp contrast to the strong northerly winds which had earlier hampered efforts.

Dr Woehler said that during the final operation the two ships were “close enough to throw a stone across to Polar Bird.”

With a continuation of the southerly weather expected over the next 24 hours, the two voyage leaders, Mr Greg Hodge (Aurora) and Dr Joe Johnson (Polar Bird), are hopeful of an uneventful passage to clear water before the ships’ return to Hobart.