The U.S. Coast Guard says one of its vessels is responding to a request from Australia, Russia and China to assist two ships trapped in ice in the Antarctic.
The Coast Guard said Saturday its icebreaker, the Polar Star, is cutting short a planned stop in Sydney to assist the Russian research ship Akademik Shokalskiy and the Chinese icebreaker Snow Dragon.
In a statement, U.S. military officer Paul Zukunft said the Coast Guard's top priority is "safety of life at sea." He said that is the reason the Coast Guard will help to break a navigational path for both trapped ships.
The Akademik Shokalskiy has been stuck in ice since Dec. 24. A helicopter from the Snow Dragon airlifted all 52 passengers from the Russian ship on Thursday to the Australian icebreaker Aurora Australis.
But the Snow Dragon also became trapped.
The Aurora Australis turned for home on Saturday with the 52 rescued passengers, after being told it was not needed to help the Snow Dragon. The crew members of the Snow Dragon said they were not in danger and had several weeks' worth of supplies.
The Akademik Shokalskiy also has several weeks' worth of supplies and is in no danger of sinking while its crew waits for the ice to break up.
The Russian ship, which left New Zealand on Nov. 28, was trying to recreate Australian explorer Douglas Mawson's century-old voyage to Antarctica.