A United States Coast Guard icebreaker is headed towards two trapped ships with more than 120 stranded crew members on Antarctica's eastern edge, officials said.
The nearly 400 foot cutter, the Polar Star, is en route after a request from Australia, Russia and China to assist the Russian and Chinese ships due to sufficient "concern that the vessels may not be able to free themselves from the ice," the Coast Guard said in a statement.
The Russian research ship Akademik Shokalskiy has been trapped since Christmas Eve, while the Chinese ship, Snow Dragon, reported on Friday that it had become stuck after using the ships helicopter to ferry passengers from the trapped Russian vessel.
Authorities say the 101 crew aboard the Chinese ship and 22 aboard the Russian ship had enough supplies and were in no immediate danger.
The Polar Star left Sydney on Sunday morning revealed Coast Guard spokeswoman Chief Warrant Officer Allyson Conroy.
"Our highest priority is safety of life at sea, which is why we are assisting in breaking a navigational path for both of these vessels." Vice Adm. Paul F. Zukunft, the Coast Guard Pacific Area commander, said in a statement. "We are always ready and duty bound to render assistance in one of the most remote and harsh environments on the face of the globe."
News of the trapped vessel broke after a British rescue coordination center received a satellite distress signal on Christmas morning from the Russian ship and contacted the Australian authority, which handles the Southern Ocean region where the vessel was stuck, the AMSA revealed in a statement.
The AMSA was also able to locate the trapped ship, which was revealed to be 100 nautical miles east of the French base Dumont D'Urville. Unfortunately, that base does not have the equipment to deal with this type of situation, causing the delay in rescue.