Ship Trapped in Antarctic Awaits RescueIBTimes UK

The ice-bound Russian explorer vessel MV Akademik Shokalskiy is still stuck in the Antarctic, as the Chinese ship sent to rescue it could not break through the heavy ice.

The icebreaker Snow Dragon got close enough to be visible on the horizon from the stricken Russian ship, but had to turn back.

Blizzards and winds of up to 40 miles per hour had pushed sea ice around the Russian ship, freezing it about 100 nautical miles east of the French Antarctic base of Dumont d'Urville.

The ship had sailed from New Zealand in a bid to replicate Australian explorer Douglas Mawson's historic voyage and scientific expedition to Antarctica a century ago.

Snow Dragon came within 6.7 nautical miles of the Russian vessel but had to retreat as the ice was thicker than expected, according to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA).

"The Chinese vessel unfortunately encountered some heavy ice that it's not capable of breaking through," Andrea Hayward-Maher, AMSA spokeswoman, told AFP. "The rescue... unfortunately has stalled."

Earlier, the vessel was only about two miles from the open water, but the ice floes expanded and locked the ship about 13 miles from the sea.

The Snow Dragon made slow and steady progress towards the trapped ship but the build-up of ice was a deterrent, with ice floes as thick as 10 feet.

Greg Mortimer, co-leader of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition (AAE) aboard the Russian ship, said: "We know that the ice conditions around us are extremely difficult and that the ice is under a lot of pressure. The ships that are coming to assist us will probably not have the ability to cut a path into us individually, so they have to work in tandem."

The French vessel L'Astrolabe made it to the edge of the sea ice surrounding the ship, but was released from the rescue mission after it too failed to break through.

A third icebreaker, Australia's Aurora Australis, is expected to arrive later, and has the highest icebreaking rating of the three vessels that responded to the distress signal by maritime authorities.

However, it is not clear if Aurora Australis will be able to go any further than the Snow Dragon. The Chinese vessel will remain in the area until the rescue operation is complete.

"A helicopter equipped Chinese flagged vessel remains in the vicinity to assist if necessary," AMSA has said in a statement.

Blizzard conditions had earlier threatened to dampen the rescue operation, but the weather calmed down considerably, to the relief of passengers and crew onboard, Chris Turney, expedition leader on Shokalskiy, said.

Turney said that some passengers had also stepped outside the ship to watch Adelie penguins and the ice formations around the ship.