A rescue icebreaker sent to retrieve more than 70 people on a marooned research ship in the Antarctic sea ice has been forced to turn around after coming within 19km of the vessel.

Seventy-four people, including six New Zealanders, have been awaiting rescue on the Akademik Shokalskiy since it became wedged in thick ice on Christmas day.

The Russian research vessel set out from Bluff on December 8. The six New Zealanders on board include ornithologist Kerry-Jayne Wilson, University of Auckland doctoral student Colin Tan, historians John and Barbara Tucker, and two chefs.

Several icebreakers have attempted to hack their way to the vessel, located about 300km southwest of Bluff, but only the Aurora Australis has come close.


The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (ASMA) confirmed this afternoon it made it to within 10 nautical miles (18.5km) of the research ship but the weather and poor visibility made it unsafe to continue.

"The Aurora Australis made it within 10 nautical miles of the MV Akademik Shokalskiy but is now located in open waters about 18 nautical miles east of the Russian vessel,'' the authority said.

A helicopter on a nearby Chinese vessel, which was last week forced to abandon its rescue of the Akademik Shokalskiy after striking heavy ice about 11km from the ship, would not be used to evacuate those on the research vessel until weather conditions improved, the ASMA said.

The Chinese vessel had been asked to remain in the area by the Rescue Coordination Centre.

`Further attempts may be made by the vessel [Aurora Australis] in due course to undertake the rescue once weather conditions improve.

"RCC Australia is continuing to monitor the situation. RCC Australia is in regular contact with the Akademik Shokalskiy and the 74 people on board remain safe and well with supplies for several weeks,'' the ASMA said.

The Akademik Shokalskiy was retracing Sir Douglas Mawson's 1911 Antarctic expedition when it became trapped. The expedition is being led by scientists from the University of New South Wales.

Cracks are developing around the bow. Hope this helps for tomorrow. #spiritofmawson pic.twitter.com/sjHwumxpnV


Another rescue vessel, the French-flagged icebreaker L'Astrolabe, was released from the rescue operation on Saturday.