Chinese icebreaker Snow Dragon finally breaks free of Antarctic ice

This image taken by passenger Andrew Peacock of on December 29, 2013 shows a thin fresh coat of snow on the trapped ship MV Akademik Shokalskiy as it waits to be rescued.

This sub-zero saga is almost at an end...

On Tuesday, Chinese state media reported that a Chinese icebreaker that had become stuck in Antarctic ice while rescuing passengers from a trapped Russian vessel finally broke free.

The Xue Long, or Snow Dragon, "pulled free of the ice and navigated into the open waters," said the official Xinhua news agency, which has a reporter on board the vessel.

According to state broadcaster China Central Television, the Xue Long spent 14 hours working to break through the ice and finally reached the open waters at 6 p.m. Beijing time.

The Xue Long's helicopter came to the aid of the stranded Russian ship Akademik Shokalskiy last week, ferrying 52 passengers on Thursday to the safety of an Australian vessel.

The Chinese ship afterwards became surrounded by ice itself, and an effort to break free early Saturday was unsuccessful.

Good news from the Akademik

Tuesday brought positive news for the Akademik Shokalskiy as well.

The ship, which had been trapped in frozen seas since Christmas Eve, is now beginning to travel at a slow speed after a crack appeared in the ice, Igor Kiselyov told the ITAR-TASS news agency.

"Finally the wind changed to the west and as a result a crack appeared in the ice. We went into it and we are now slowly moving north," he said.

"We are going at a slow speed and by changing course, we have moved forward already more than 20 miles," he added.

He acknowledged the sailing conditions were "hard", with "thick fog" and visibility of "no more than 500 metres."

A crew of 22 remained on the Akademik Shokalskiy after the 52 passengers including tourists, journalists and scientists were airlifted to safety last Thursday.

The Polar Star, a US Coast Guard icebreaker that had been dispatched to the aid of both ships, is expected to arrive on Sunday.

The vessel, which is cutting short a stop in Australia, is capable of breaking six feet of ice continuously and a maximum of 21 feet by backing up and ramming it, according to the US Coast Guard.