Ice-bound ships break free, Polar Star 'stands down'

ANTARCTICA - The two ships trapped in Antarctic ice broke free Tuesday, bringing an abrupt end to the icebreaker Polar Star's rescue mission.  Cracks in the ice allowed the Russian research ship Akademik Shokalskiy to escape the ice fireld where it had been stranded for two week, CNN reported.  The U.S. Coast Guard Polar Star had been dispatched to rescue the Akademik and the Chinese icebreaker Xue Long, which had gotten stuck in ice during an attempt to free the Russian ship.

The Akademik Shokalskiy had been trapped in unusually deep ice since Christmas Eve with scientists, journalists, tourists and crew members on board, CNN reported. A helicopter was able to fly the ship's 52 passengers to an Australian icebreaker last week.  The ship's captain said that the ship is currently heading to New Zealand.

The Polar Star had been dispatched to help free the stranded ships over the weekend, but they broke loose before the cutter arrived.