Antarctica. AAP

Antarctic rescue on ice until ship arrives

AN ANTARCTIC rescue mission has suffered a setback after two icebreakers abandoned efforts to free a research ship stranded deep in sea ice.

A group of Australian scientists, explorers and tourists has been stuck on the Russian ship since Christmas Day.

The ship sent a distress call after becoming trapped in heavy sea ice, which has continued to expand around it near Antarctica.

Three ice-breaking ships were sent to free the stranded vessel.

Two have been forced to turn back after encountering dangerous sea ice.

That leaves Australia's Aurora Australis as the only remaining ship that can help, but it is not expected to reach the vessel until tonight.

The trapped ship had been undertaking the Spirit of Mawson voyage, which is retracing Sir Douglas Mawson's Antarctic expedition.