Russian research vessel Akademik Shokalskiy freed as ice thaws in Antarctica

A Russian research vessel stuck in thick Antarctic ice for a fortnight has finally managed to break free. The Akademik Shokalskiy became trapped on Christmas Eve in frozen seas with 52 passengers and 22 crew on board. The passengers were eventually airlifted off after spending Christmas and New Year's Eve stranded aboard the ship in Antarctica's Commonwealth Bay, but the Russian crew remained on board, waiting for a change in conditions. 

The ship's captain has told a Russian news agency the vessel is now moving slowly after a crack appeared in the ice. 

It comes hours after Chinese ice breaker Xue Long (Snow Dragon) - which had sought to come to the rescue of the ship before itself becoming stuck - also broke free from the ice. Chinese state media says the ship with 101 people on board is now cruising in open waters after the ship got stuck in thick ice floes on Friday. 

It is likely millions of dollars have been spent on the international rescue mission to free the Akademik Shokalskiy and rescue its passengers, which included scientists and tourists who had set out to retrace the journey of explorer Douglas Mawson. The rescue mission affected the scientific programs of a number of countries, prompting calls for the expedition to foot the bill for the rescue. Expedition leader Professor Chris Turney has been forced to defend himself from criticism that he was too inexperienced to be aware of the risks of entering Commonwealth Bay.