A Russian research ship that became trapped in Antarctic ice, forcing the passengers to be airlifted to safety, is now managing to navigate slowly through the ice, its captain said.

The Russian Akademik Shokalskiy ship is now beginning to travel at a slow speed after a crack appeared in the ice, Igor Kiselyov told the ITAR-TASS news agency.

It has been trapped in frozen seas since Christmas Eve.

"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."

Nevertheless, the going was better than before, he said, with the ship moving through smaller chunks of ice.

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

Chinese icebreaker, the Xue Long, which was sent to rescue passengers from the Akademik Shokalskiy only to become trapped in the ice itself, managed to break free from the ice  and sail into open waters, Chinese state media reported.

The Xue Long's helicopter had evacuated the passengers from the stranded Russian ship and flown them to the safety of an Australian vessel.

The Shokalskiy became trapped on 24 December in frozen seas 100 nautical miles east of the French Antarctic base, Dumont d'Urville.