Stranded folk chill as rescuers near

Help is expected to reach a ship stranded in the Antarctic with four Kiwis on board today.

The MV Akademik Shokalskiy has been unable to move since Christmas Eve after it was surrounded by thick ice near Commonwealth Bay.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority was alerted to a distress message sent via satellite from the vessel about 9.20am (NZ time) on Wednesday.

Australian expedition leader Chris Turney, speaking via satellite phone, said a Chinese icebreaking vessel was expected to arrive within the next 24 hours.

The "huge" ship - called the Snow Dragon - had a strong hull capable of ploughing through the ice, he said.

Ships from France and Australia were enroute to assist also.

It was a "relief" to know help was on the way, Professor Turney said.

He had hoped a change in weather might help free the vessel but several low-pressure systems had continued over the last few days. "We're right in the middle of a storm at the moment but the forecast is a lot better for today]."

Prof Turney said everyone was "in good spirits".

About 70 people are on board: 50 mostly Australian scientists and tourists, as well as a crew of about 20, believed to be Russian.

The New Zealand contingent on the ship includes West Coast ornithologist Kerry-Jayne Wilson, paramedic Colin Tan and two caterers, including Central Otago woman Nicole Kerr.

The ship was being used for the Australasian Antarctic Expedition, which departed from Bluff on November 28.

The privately funded expedition was to return to Mawson's Huts in Antarctica. The huts had been inaccessible for many years because of an iceberg.

The group had expected to return to Bluff on January 4 or 5. Fairfax NZ

Taranaki Daily News