Australia’s polar research ship Aurora Australis is to transport scientists and other expedition members from the icebound Polar Bird to Mawson station in an effort to get the summer Antarctic program back on schedule.

The expeditioners were to have gone ashore at Mawson before Christmas, but have been unable to reach their destination because Polar Bird has been trapped in heavy pack ice since mid-December.

For the past 24 hours Aurora Australis has been seeking leads through the ice about 100 kilometres off the Antarctic coast in Prydz Bay, in an attempt to free Polar Bird.

It was able to get to within about 40 nautical miles of the stranded ship, but was prevented from getting any closer by heavy rafted ice and blizzard conditions.

The Australian Antarctic Division decided today to use Aurora to move 34 Mawson-bound expeditioners to enable delayed programs to get underway, while waiting for the weather change needed to create more favourable ice conditions around Polar Bird.

Helicopters are being used to transfer the passengers and some cargo from Polar Bird to Aurora Australis, but the operation is being disrupted by continuing snowfalls.

Once the transfer is complete, Aurora is expected to take four or five days to travel the 550 kilometres to Mawson. It will also be collecting four Mawson expeditioners who are returning to Australia.

If Polar Bird is still immobilised by ice, Aurora will then return to Prydz Bay to try to free the ship using its ice-breaking capability.