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Help on the way for ship stranded off Antarctica

| Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013, 7:15 p.m.
REUTERS
Barbara Tucker, a passenger aboard the trapped ship MV Akademik Shokalskiy looks at an Adelie penguin walking by on the ice off East Antarctica December 29, 2013, some 100 nautical miles (185 km) east of French Antarctic station Dumont D'Urville and about 1,500 nautical miles (2,800 km) south of Hobart, Tasmania. The Snow Dragon Chinese icebreaker was one of three icebreakers sent to free the MV Akademik Shokalskiy, which became stranded on Tuesday in ice driven by strong winds. Ice appeared to be cracking up on Sunday, raising hopes for a rescue as the Aurora Australis, a powerful Australian icebreaker, approached the stranded vessel. The trapped Russian ship, with 74 people on board, left New Zealand on November 28 on a privately funded expedition to commemorate the 100th anniversary of an Antarctic journey led by famed Australian explorer Douglas Mawson. REUTERS/Andrew Peacock (ANTARCTICA - Tags: ENVIRONMENT DISASTER) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS

The outcome of the latest rescue attempt for an Australian science team whose cruise ship became trapped in ice off Antarctica on Christmas Day could be determined within hours, authorities said on Sunday.

The Australian icebreaker Aurora Austalis headed toward the MV Akademik Shokalskiy, a Russian ship with 74 people aboard. The Australian Maritime Safety Authority, which was heading up the rescue operation, said a Chinese ship tasked by the Royal Coast Guard Australia remained in the vicinity to assist if needed. The Chinese ship was equipped with a helicopter in case the Aurora Australis was unable to reach the stranded ship.

RCC Australia, the search and rescue authority responsible for the area, said it was in regular contact with the Akademik Shokalskiy, adding that everyone was reported to be safe and well.

“It's hard to tell if it makes it through,” said Lisa Martin, a spokeswoman for AMSA. “There are snow showers in the area that are causing bad visibility; conditions are deteriorating.”

The passengers include 22 crew and 52 tourists, scientists and explorers. The ship, which left New Zealand last month, is on a special research voyage to honor the 100th anniversary of Australian explorer Douglas Mawson.

Expedition leader Chris Turney, a professor of climate change at Australia's University of New South Wales, has been tweeting and blogging the trip. He tweeted at 4 p.m. Sunday: “Wind picked and it's snowing as forecast for this am Good news: Aurora making attempt from E!”

The cruise ship, stuck about 1,500 miles south of Hobart, Tasmania, has not sustained damage. Morale remains high and passengers have ample provisions, Turney has written.

The search and rescue operation began on Christmas morning when Britain's Falmouth Maritime Rescue Coordination Center received a distress message via satellite from the Akademik Shokalskiy.

The distress message and subsequent coordination of the incident were passed to RCC Australia.

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