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Icebreakers fail to free Russian research ship stuck in the Antarctic


The penguins watching the increasingly bizarre multinational events unfolding in the Antarctic look rightly bemused.

A Russian research ship, the Akademik Shokalskiy, has been trapped in thick sea ice, with 74 passengers on board, since Christmas Day. A Chinese icebreaker, the Snow Dragon, was sent to release the stricken vessel, but was stopped in its tracks, within eyesight of the trapped ship, by thick ice and bad weather.

The Snow Dragon's captain, Wang Jianzhong, told the Xinhua news agency that the ice and an upcoming cyclone meant "we have to... stall the ship".

Yesterday, another ship was said to be steaming towards the Antarctic to help, from Australia; the Aurora Australis is due to arrive tonight.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority, co-ordinating the rescue, told Reuters that, should the latest rescue attempt fail, a helicopter on the Snow Dragon could airlift the passengers to safety.

A third icebreaker, the French L'Astrolabe, arrived yesterday, but was forced to call off its mission after failing to break through the ice 1,500 nautical miles south of Tasmania.

The Akademik Shokalskiy left New Zealand on 28 November on a privately funded expedition to commemorate the 100th anniversary of an Antarctic journey led by famed Australian explorer Douglas Mawson.