A United States icebreaker has reached a fishing vessel trapped by ice in Antarctica that has 13 New Zealanders on board.

The Antarctic Chieftain, a 63-metre-long toothfishing vessel owned by Australian Longline Pty, requested assistance from The Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ) on Wednesday, after it damaged three of its four propellers and became trapped in ice.

The vessel was about 1700 kilometres from McMurdo Sound, on the eastern edge of New Zealand's search and rescue region.

Yesterday, it was confirmed that of the crew of 26 on board, 13 were New Zealanders.


RCCNZ search and rescue mission coordinator Conrad Reynecke said the Polar Star had made its way through icy waters and reached the Antarctic Chieftain, at approximately 6.50am.

Mr Reynecke said the next step would be for crew on the Polar Star to deploy an ROV (remotely operated underwater vehicle) to assess the situation. "This will allow them to inspect the damage to the three of the four blades of the propeller and help them to assess whether the Antarctic Chieftain is capable of making way through the ice under its own power, or whether they will have to rig tow wires to extract the vessel."

The crew was not at risk, and had plenty of supplies on board.

The New Zealand-flagged fishing boat, Janas, was also heading to the area to provide assistance if required, and was expected to arrive in the area on Monday.

New Zealand-flagged fishing boat, Janas, will provide assistance. Photo / supplied / Bill Evans
New Zealand-flagged fishing boat, Janas, will provide assistance. Photo / supplied / Bill Evans

Weather conditions for all three vessels continued to be favourable.

Australian Longline managing director Les Scott said the ship, which was licensed to fish for toothfish in the Southern Ocean, was damaged last Saturday when it hit ice.

He said following an underwater inspection, it became clear the vessel would be unable to manoeuvre out of its current position.

"In review of current ice charts and weather forecast, it is expected that ice will continue to build up placing unacceptable risk to both crew and vessel safety, and is unforseeable in the medium term that the ice surrounding the vessel will clear as a result of favourable weather and tidal currents."

US Coast Guard Vice Admiral Charles Ray, commander of Pacific Area, said the seas of Antarctica were "treacherous and unforgiving".

In order to reach the stranded vessel, the Polar Star's crew have broken through several miles of thick ice, endured winds and navigated through heavy snowfall.