Arctic pack ice that besieged Newfoundland's northeastern coast is showing signs of easing as three fishing boats stuck in thick ice floes returned safely to shore Thursday.

Trevor Hodgson, the Canadian Coast Guard's superintendent of ice operations for the Atlantic region, said the vessels trapped for days off La Scie, N.L., made it back without the assistance of an icebreaker.

"They actually made it back in under their own power this morning and they're all clear and safe," he said, noting that the crews likely found a pathway through the ice back to shore. "It could be that they just got a lucky break."

Hodgson said conditions are expected to improve in the coming days as southerly winds push the dense Arctic ice offshore.

"We've got some southerly winds predicted to start today and go into Saturday, which should help push that ice pack out to sea a little bit to spread out," he said. "We're hoping it's going to not be one giant ice pack but some smaller ice packs that will help it start melting."

But Hodgson said fishermen and other seafarers should check the region's ice charts regularly as the pack ice could stall in some areas, including near traditional offshore fishing grounds.

"While we're talking about conditions easing up over the next couple of days, it might turn around and could possibly come back in."

The heavy pack ice, more than two metres thick in some areas, has created treacherous conditions for boats and prompted ferries and commercial ships to enlist the Coast Guard's icebreaker services long after the ice has normally cleared.

Five fishermen were rescued Wednesday from the Avalon Princess fishing boat, which started to take on water after getting stuck in the ice.

A crew from 103 Search and Rescue Squadron at 9 Wing Gander airlifted the fishermen to safety on a Cormorant helicopter.

Five fishermen were rescued Wednesday from the Avalon Princess fishing boat, which started to take on water after getting stuck in the ice.

A crew from 103 Search and Rescue Squadron at 9 Wing Gander airlifted the fishermen to safety on a Cormorant helicopter.

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image credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Department of Fisheires and Oceans)

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