Help on horizon for 74 on icebound Russian ship off Antarctica

MOSCOW (REUTERS) - A Chinese icebreaker is expected a reach a Russian ship trapped in thick Antarctic ice with 74 people on board by Saturday, Russia said.

The Snow Dragon was one of three icebreakers dispatched to free the MV Akademik Shokalskiy, which became stranded far south of Tasmania on Tuesday in ice driven by strong winds.

"The first, a Chinese icebreaker, is expected to arrive at the scene of the accident on December 28," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

"Great news: Icebreaker Snow Dragon on Horizon with penguins! Everyone very happy!" Chris Turney, an Australian professor who helped organize the voyage on the Russian ship, said on Twitter on Friday.

He posted a photograph apparently showing the Chinese vessel, a speck on the horizon beyond an expanse of ice.

The Akademik Shokalskiy departed New Zealand on November 28 on a privately funded expedition which commemorates the 100th anniversary of an Antarctic journey led by famed Australian explorer Douglas Mawson.

The ship's passengers include scientists and tourists, many of them Australian, and what the Russian Foreign Ministry said were 22 Russian crew members.

The Russian embassy in Australia has been in constant contact with the captain and everyone on board is in good health, it said. "There is no threat to their lives or safety".

The ship is trapped some 100 nautical miles (185 km) east of French Antarctic station Dumont D'Urville and about 1,500 (2,800 km) nautical miles south of Hobart, Tasmania.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority, which is coordinating the rescue effort, said earlier on Friday the first of the three vessels was moving slowly through the ice about 15 nautical miles from the Akademik Shokalskiy.

Turney had said in a web-posted video on Thursday that the Snow Dragon was expected to reach the stranded ship on Friday.

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