Sydney - A snowstorm on Monday held up the latest bid to free a polar research vessel trapped in Antarctic ice since Christmas. Australia's Aurora Australis is waiting for a break in the weather some 50 kilometres from the trapped Russian-flagged MV Akademik Shokalskiy, an Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) spokeswoman said.
AMSA began coordinating the rescue after the Shokalskiy called for help after getting stuck when a blizzard swept through on Tuesday.
The Shokalskiy, with 74 people on board, is stuck about 2 800 kilometres south of Hobart, Tasmania. Expedition leader Chris Turney tweeted from the ship with good news and bad news: cracks had appeared in the ice packed round the ship but that there were snowfalls and stronger winds.
AMSA sent in the Aurora after a Chinese research vessel, the Snow Dragon, had to give up within 12 kilometres of the Shokalskiy because the ice sheets were more than a match for its steel hull.
The Snow Dragon's helicopter has flown over the Shokalskiy to map a path for the Aurora, which has a greater icebreaking capacity than the Chinese ship.
If it is necessary to abandon ship, those aboard the Shokalskiy could be removed by helicopter. Turney has held out the possibility that better weather could see the ship free itself.
The Finnish-built Shokalskiy has 48 passengers, 26 of them tourists. The remainder are crew. It was just 2 kilometres from open water when it got stuck on Christmas Eve.
Since then more sea ice has packed in to leave the vessel even more isolated. The scientists on board are on a mission to update the records that Australian polar explorer Douglas Mawson made 100 years ago.
They left from New Zealand last month and were expected to sail back there next month. - Sapa-dpa