A CRUISE liner which became trapped in massive ice floes has been rescued by a Hampshire based Royal Navy vessel.

The liner was following the ice-breaker HMS Protector through breaks in the densely-packed ice but became faced with a number of fast-moving floes as it carried passengers through the Antarctic Sound.

The Portsmouth-based survey vessel turned back to assist the Norwegian ship MV Fram and broke up the ice, which was up to 13 feet thick, allowing it to continue its journey following the two-hour operation.

Captain Peter Sparkes, commanding officer of HMS Protector, said: ''This is what we do in the ice patrol ship. We are the Royal Navy's equivalent of a Swiss army knife - red, versatile and always there when you need us.''

Sub Lieutenant Rowland Stacey of the Royal Canadian Navy, on exchange and serving with HMS Protector, said: ''This was an extremely impressive feat - operations in ice can be very challenging, but HMS Protector made it look easy. I am delighted to be a part of this team.''

HMS Protector is continuing with its patrol of the British Antarctic Territory, supporting an embarked international inspection team's surveys of environmentally sensitive sites around the Peninsula.

The ship, which serves as the UK's presence in Antarctica, will complete three further five-week patrols of the continent before heading north at the beginning of April.