The Chinese ice breaker Xue Long is dashing from Freemantle to the Ross Sea to rescue a passenger ship trapped in sea ice off east Antarctica.
The Akademik Shokalskiy is carrying 52 passengers and 20 crew on a voyage retracing Australian explorer Douglas Mawson's route.
Expedition leader Chris Turney, in a blog on the Australasian Antarctic Expediiton's website, says the Xue Long (Snow Dragon) is not expected to reach the Akademik Shokalskiy until Friday night.
Mr Turney also says the French vessel Astrolabe is also on the way to provide support and will be arriving shortly after Xue Long.
The Australian ship, the Aurora australis, has also been sent from the Australian base Casey Station and will arrive later.
A blizzard has been pummelling the ship, which has half a dozen New Zealanders aboard.
The Australasian Antarctic Expedition tweeted about the blizzard late on Boxing Day, as expedition members and the crew of the Akademik Shokalskiy awaited the three ice-breakers sailing to their rescue.
There are six New Zealanders aboard, including Jon and Barbara Tucker from the Mawson's Huts Foundation, scientist and paramedic Colin Tan, ornithologist Kerry-Jayne Wilson and two crew members - both chefs.
The ship left Bluff on 9 December, but became trapped by sea-ice 2676km southwest of Bluff, in Commonwealth Bay.
Australian Maritime Safety Authority spokesperson Andrea Hayward-Maher says that the ship is not in immediate danger, and authorities have made contingency plans to cope with a number of scenarios.