Russian sailing expedition 'goes missing' in Antarctic
MOSCOW - Agence France-Presse
This undated hand out photo released on April 6, 2012 shows the Scorpius sailboat which went missing, an expedition spokesman said. AFP photoA Russian-Ukrainian crew that set sail in September on an historic expedition around the South and North Poles went missing in the Antarctic on Friday after encountering gale-force winds.
A spokeswoman for the eight-person crew on board the 29-metre (97-foot) Scorpius yacht said the team made its last radio contact on Monday night as it prepared for another treacherous leg of its journey in the South Shetlands.
The mission website's last entry said the Scorpius met wind gusts that whipped up breaking waves on its way to Deception Island -- a location popular with brave adventurers for its restless volcano.
It had just visited the Ukrainian-run Akademik Vernadsky research base and was heading next for the Russian-run Bellingshausen station.
"Gale-force winds blowing all day," the crew wrote on the blog.
"To try to enter the bay, which is crammed with underwater rocks and banks, with the winds blowing like this is very dangerous." Spokeswoman Anna Subbotina said the captain told her on Monday at 2300 GMT that Scorpius had sailed about 50 kilometres (30 miles) into the open sea from the Ukrainian station because so much ice had covered the surrounding bays.
"It would be an understatement to say that we are very, very worried," Subbotina told AFP.
She added that the captain had previously promised to make contact every couple of days because that part of the Antarctic had particularly dark nights at this time of the season and the area became quickly covered with ice.
"The captain said he was particularly afraid of hitting an iceberg," said Subbotina.
"I know that this is a very strong crew that refuses to press the SOS button unless they really are ready to give up. I just hope that this is why we have not heard from them." The Scorpius -- a sleek white steel yacht built in 1991 in The Netherlands -- left on its 130,000 kilometre voyage hoping to set a number of sailing records and restoring Russia's pride on the seas.
"Our main mission is to remind everyone that our national pride -- which is based on our great history -- will be with us forever. It is to tell everyone that Russia is a great country," the team said on its website.
It hoped to become the first yacht to circle both the South and North Poles in the same year -- only a part of a mission that intends to stay at sea for a record 20 months.
The Scorpius set sail from Russia's Black Sea port city of Sochi on September 18 before passing the Canary Islands off the northwestern coast of Africa in November and then dipping below the southern bend of Argentina.
The team's crew comprised four Russians and four Ukranians on this stage of the journey.
The yacht last called at Anvers Island, just north of the Arctic Circle, where the United States has a station.
But Subbotina said the captain never made contact with the US team at Palmer Station because he had planned to quickly move on.
"I have not heard from them since," said the spokeswoman.
She said the crew had already survived a hurricane off the coast of Tasmania that briefly left the Scorpius stranded without a functioning sail and most of its equipment swept overboard.
"But even then they managed to find their Iridium (satellite) mobile somewhere and tell me about it after a couple of days," Subbotina said.