Updated: 01/02/2014 05:23 | By Agence France-Presse

Antarctic ship rescue set to begin: maritime authority

An attempt to rescue passengers from a stricken Russian ship in the Antarctic is set to begin shortly, Australia's maritime authority said Thursday, after weather conditions improved. 

Antarctic ship rescue set to begin: maritime authority

Passengers link arms and stamp out a helicopter landing site on the ice near the MV Akademik Shokalskiy (back R), still stuck in the ice off eastern Antarctica, as the ship waits for a possible helicopter rescue, December 31, 2013

The Akademik Shokalskiy, carrying 74 passengers and crew, has not moved since it became trapped about 100 nautical miles east of the French base Dumont d'Urville on December 24.

Efforts to free it using icebreaking ships have failed, with the Australian government's supply ship Aurora Australis admitting Tuesday it was unable to reach the marooned vessel, forcing a more complex helicopter rescue.

Attempts to hold an airborne rescue were called off Wednesday because of adverse weather conditions. 

But in a message posted early Thursday on their official Twitter account, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) said a rescue effort could soon get under way. 

"Akademik Shokalskiy has advised RCC (Rescue Coordination Centre) Australia that weather conditions have improved and rescue operations are likely to commence shortly," AMSA said, adding that further information would be issued "throughout the morning".

The announcement will be a source of much needed cheer for the mixed group of scientists, journalists and tourists on board the stranded vessel. 

Although the ship is well provisioned and not in any immediate danger, the crew have had to spend Christmas and New Year marooned amid bitter snow storms and blizzards. 

Australian authorities, who are coordinating the rescue, plan to use a helicopter on board the Chinese-flagged icebreaker Xue Long to bring 52 passengers off the boat, leaving behind its 22 crew members.

They would then be taken by barge from the Xue Long to the Aurora Australis.

Passengers on the stranded ship had been following in the footsteps of Australian Sir Douglas Mawson and his 1911-1914 expedition.

The team has been carrying out the same scientific experiments that Mawson's group conducted during their expedition, partly in an attempt to discover how quickly the Antarctic's sea ice is disappearing.

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