(Reuters) - Three icebreakers are en route to an area off the coast of Antarctica to help free a vessel carrying 74 people, including a scientific expedition team, which is stranded in thick sheets of ice, officials said on Thursday.
The Russian ship MV Akademik Shokalskiy has been trapped since Tuesday when ice pushed by strong winds surrounded the vessel, according to an Austrialian professor who helped organize the trip.
"We're surrounded by sea ice, we just can't get through," Chris Turney, a professor of climate change at the University of New South Wales said in a video posted on YouTube.
"Everyone is safe, the vessel is perfectly safe. But we can't make a passage forward," he said in the video posted on Thursday.
Three ships with icebreaking capability have been dispatched to help dislodge the vessel, which is located about 1,500 nautical miles south of Hobart, Tasmania, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said.
The first icebreaker, a Chinese vessel called the Snow Dragon, is expected to reach the ship on Friday, Turney said.
A low-pressure system has hung over the stranded ship, Turney said, creating blizzard conditions with wind gusts at times reaching in excess of 70 kph (43 mph).
The ship's passengers include some 50 scientists and tourists, many of them Australian, and some 20 crew members, mostly believed to be Russian.
The ship 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.
(Reporting by Kevin Gray; editing by Andrew Hay)