In this Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2013 image provided by Australasian Antarctic Expedition/Footloose Fotography, passengers from the Russian ship MV Akademik Shokalskiy link arms and stamp out a helicopter landing site on the ice near the trapped ship 1,500 nautical miles south of Hobart, Australia. (AP)
CANBERRA, Australia (AP) - A U.S. Coast Guard heavy icebreaker will leave Australia for Antarctica on Sunday to rescue more than 120 crew members aboard two icebreakers trapped in pack ice near the frozen continent's eastern edge, officials said.
The Coast Guard says the Polar Star is responding to a Jan. 3 request from Australia, Russia and China to assist the Russian and Chinese ships because "there is sufficient concern that the vessels may not be able to free themselves from the ice."
The Russian research ship has been trapped in ice-clogged Commonwealth Bay since Christmas Eve, while the Chinese ship which came to its rescue reported on Friday it too had become stuck nearby.
A day earlier, the Chinese ship's helicopter had retrieved from the Russian ship 52 scientists, journalists and tourists who are now on their way home aboard an Australian icebreaker.
Authorities say the 101 crew aboard the Chinese ship and 22 aboard the Russian ship are well provisioned and in no immediate danger.
The Polar Star is cutting short its planned stop in Sydney, Australia, to assist.
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