The Russian vessel MV Akademik Shokalskiy which was stuck in thick Antarctic ice is nearing rescue, as a Chinese icebreaker, Snow Dragon, is reported to be just about 12 miles away from the ship, according to AP.

The ship, carrying about 74 passengers on a scientific expedition to Antarctica, has been trapped in the ice since Christmas Eve.

Maritime authorities had received a distress signal from the vessel on Christmas day, who in turn relayed the signal to icebreaking vessels in the area.

Three icebreakers in the vicinity responded, including Australia's Aurora Australis, the French vessel L'Astrolabe and the Chinese Snow Dragon.

Snow Dragon has reached the edge of the sea ice, spanning miles around the ship, and may ask for assistance from two other boats, which are also en route to the trapped vessel.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), which is coordinating the rescue, said that the ship was stuck about 100 nautical miles east of the French base Dumont D'Urville.

"The ship was starting to head out (to the open ocean) when the blizzard hit," expedition spokesman Alvin Stone told AFP.

Andrea Hayward-Maher, spokeswoman for the AMSA, said that changing weather conditions and the thickness of the ice could slow the progress of the rescue mission.

Expedition leader aboard the Russian vessel, Chris Turney, predicted that Snow Dragon will be able to reach the stranded ship only by Saturday.

The ship is not in danger of sinking and supplies on the ship are enough for the scientists, tourists and crew on board.

The vessel had left New Zealand on 28 November on a scientific expedition replicating the historic voyage of Australian explorer Douglas Mawson to Antarctica a century ago.

The blizzards and the sea ice have not dampened the spirits of the scientists who continued with their research on board the stranded ship, counting birds in the area and drilling through the ice surrounding the vessel to photograph sea life.

"We're all just on tenterhooks at the moment, waiting to find out how long it will take", Turney told AP, adding that "morale is really good".

The team plans to press ahead with its expedition to the Antarctic after being released from the sea ice.