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Help on the way to science ship trapped off Antarctica

SYDNEY -- A Chinese icebreaker was Friday closing in on the frozen seas where a scientific mission ship is trapped off Antarctica, as those onboard welcomed the easing of blizzard conditions.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), which is coordinating the rescue of the Russian passenger ship MV Akademik Shokalskiy, said the boat had experienced very strong winds and limited visibility.

The ship, with 74 people on board, has been trapped in ice about 100 nautical miles east of the French base Dumont D'Urville since Tuesday.

Three boats with icebreaking capability have diverted to try to help free it, with the Chinese vessel Snow Dragon expected now about 15 nautical miles from the vessel but progressing at slow speed, AMSA said.

It is not known whether it will be able to immediately cut through to the stranded ship or will wait for assistance from the other two boats, the French vessel L'Astrolabe — which is 20 nautical miles away — and the Australian Antarctic Division's Aurora Australis.

“Weather conditions improved on Friday, with strong winds and snow abating,” AMSA said in a statement.

“Conditions are expected to remain favorable for the next two days.”

Chris Fogwill, one of the scientists on the Akademik Shokalskiy, said the boat had been in an area that was normally open water but had been caught out by a change in the weather that forced them into heavy ice.

They were then hit by a blizzard on Thursday.

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In this image provided by Australasian Antarctic Expedition/Footloose Fotography, the Russian ship MV Akademik Shokalskiy is seen trapped in thick Antarctic ice 1,500 nautical miles south of Australia on Friday, Dec. 27. (AP)

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