(QHA) - An operation has begun in Antarctica to rescue passengers from the ice-bound research vessel Akademik Shokalskiy, BBC reports. A Chinese helicopter arrived close to the vessel, bringing in a crew to assess the landing situation. The aircraft left but then returned to begin ferrying the first passengers out to another vessel. As reported, the Shokalskiy has been trapped since Christmas Eve. Its 22 crew are expected to remain on board once the 52 scientists and tourists have left. The Shokalskiy was trapped by thick sheets of ice driven by strong winds, about 1,500 nautical miles south of Hobart - the capital of the Australian state of Tasmania. The vessel is being used by the Australasian Antarctic Expedition to follow the route explorer Douglas Mawson travelled a century ago.