The Aurora Australis icebreaker pictured. It is on its way to rescue stranded research ship.
The Aurora Australis icebreaker pictured. It is on its way to rescue stranded research ship. Wiki Commons

Passengers on Russian scientific mission ship Academician Shokalskiy, stranded and trapped in dense ice off East Antarctica, are hoping Australian icebreaker Aurora Australis can arrive there soon and help them reach open waters.

The rescue mission is proving increasingly difficult after Chinese icebreaker Xue Long (Snow Dragon), which was on its way to rescue Shokalskiy, found itself caught up in thick ice, some distance off the scientific expedition ship. 

After the thick ice foiled the rescue attempts by the Snow Dragon and French vessel L'Astrolabe, which was also stuck on its way to the stranded ship, the only immediate hope left is Aurora Australis arriving there without any hindrance. The Australian vessel is on its way to the paralyzed Shokalskiy, in a renewed bid to rescue the ship.

"Our rescue boat, the Xue Long, has had to turn back because the ice was too thick for it to get through," Alok Jha, a journalist on board the Shokalskiy twitted earlier.

Chris Turney, one of the leaders of the expedition, tweeted an image of the Snow Dragon icebreaker far on the horizon as it approached the research ship. Hope of being rescued, however, quickly faded after the Chinese vessel came within 11 km of the expedition ship but was suddenly halted by thick ice.

The Snow Dragon has returned to open waters after failing to force through the ice, much to the dismay of everyone onboard the research ship.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority, which is coordinating the rescue efforts, confirmed that French vessel L'Astrolabe also had to halt on the way due to thick ice. The Aurora Australis, which is now the only hope for the 74 people stranded in Shokalskiy, is expected to arrive at the spot later on Sunday.

Meanwhile, big cracks have appeared in the ice around the stranded ship, raising hopes that the vessel could move on its own, the BBC reported.

The science team, led by Turney and Chirs Fogwill, has said that the Shokalskiy is well stocked with food and water, and the people are in no apparent danger.

The vessel, which is now in the Australian Search and Rescue region, is carrying tourists and scientists. The ship was following the track that was explored by Australia's Sir Douglas Mawson a century ago.