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Poor weather stalls attempt to rescue ship trapped in ice near Antarctica

MV-Akademik-Shokalskiy.jpg

Dec. 27, 2013: In this image provided by Australasian Antarctic Expedition/Footloose Fotography the Russian ship MV Akademik Shokalskiy is trapped in thick Antarctic ice 1,500 nautical miles south of Hobart, Australia.AP/Australasian Antarctic Expedition/Footloose Fotography

The latest attempt to rescue 74 people trapped on a ship stuck in ice near Antarctica has been put on hold as low visibility is preventing an Australian vessel from moving forward.

The Aurora Australis icebreaker ship, which is about 28 nautical miles east of the MV Akademik Shokalskiy, has stopped in its current position due to snow showers, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said on its Twitter account.

On Saturday, a Chinese icebreaker that was en route to rescue the Russian ship was forced to turn back after being unable to push its way through the heavy sea ice.

The Snow Dragon icebreaker came within 7 miles of the ship, which has been stuck since Christmas Eve, but had to retreat after the ice became too thick, said expedition spokesman Alvin Stone. The Snow Dragon will remain in the area in case its help is needed.

The Akademik Shokalskiy, which has been on a research expedition to Antarctica, got stuck Tuesday after a blizzard's whipping winds pushed the sea ice around the ship, freezing it in place. The ship wasn't in danger of sinking, and there are weeks' worth of supplies for the 74 scientists, tourists and crew on board, but the vessel cannot move.

France's L'Astrolabe icebreaker made it to the edge of the sea ice surrounding the ship on Saturday, but called off its mission after it, too, failed to break through, said Lisa Martin, spokeswoman for the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, which is coordinating the rescue.

The scientific team on board the research ship — which left New Zealand on Nov. 28 — had been recreating Australian explorer Douglas Mawson's century-old voyage to Antarctica when it became trapped. They plan to continue their expedition after they are freed, expedition leader Chris Turney said.

Passengers and crew initially had to contend with blizzard conditions, including winds up to 40 miles per hour, but the weather has calmed considerably since then, Turney said.

Despite the interruption to the expedition, the scientists have continued their research while stuck, counting birds in the area and drilling through the ice surrounding the ship to photograph sea life. Those on board also managed to celebrate the holiday with a traditional Christmas feast and a "Secret Santa" gift exchange, which helped keep everyone's spirits high, Turney said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.