John Bacon, USA TODAY
The fate of the latest rescue attempt for an Australian science team whose cruise ship became trapped in ice off Antarctica on Christmas Day could be determined within hours, authorities said Sunday.
The Australian icebreaker Aurora Austalis was making its way toward the MV Akademic Shokalskiy, a Russian ship with 74 people aboard. The Australian Maritime Safety Authority, which was heading up the rescue operation, said a Chinese ship tasked by the Royal Coast Guard Australia also remained in the vicinity to assist if needed. The Chinese ship was equipped with a helicopter in case the Aurora Australis was unable to reach the stranded ship.
RCC Australia said it was in regular contact with the Akademik Shokalskiy, adding that the everyone was reported to be safe and well.
The passengers include 22 crew and 52 tourists, scientists and explorers. The ship, which left New Zealand last month, is on a special research voyage to honor the 100th anniversary of Australian explorer Douglas Mawson.
Expedition leader Chris Turney, a professor of climate change at Australia's University of New South Wales, has been tweeting and blogging the trip. He tweeted Sunday at 4 p.m. ET: "Wind picked and it's snowing as forecast for this am Good news: Aurora making attempt from E!"
The cruise ship, stuck about 1,500 miles south of Hobart, Tasmania, has not suffered damage. Morale remains high and passengers have ample provisions, Turney has written.
The search and rescue operation began on Christmas morning after Britain's Falmouth Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre received a distress message via satellite from the Akademik Shokalskiy.
The distress message and subsequent coordination of the incident was passed to RCC Australia, which is the search and rescue authority responsible for this area.