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SYDNEY, December 27. /ITAR-TASS/. The captain of the Russian research ship Akademik Shokalsky has dismissed reports by Australian media outlets which said that passengers would be evacuated before the operation to release the ship trapped in Antarctic ice began.
“The Chinese icebreaker Xuelong is about ten miles away, but it sails at a very slow speed - less than 1.5 nautical miles per hour,” he said. “The ice has become so packed here over the past few days that it is very difficult for it to move along. I believe that under the most favorable developments it will approach us in some five to six hours,” the captain said.
He also said that the French Astrolabe ship would hardly be able to approach as the ice was too thick for it, while the Australian Aurora Australis icebreaker would arrive only in some 24 hours.Kiselyov said that meanwhile research work continued on board the Akademik Shokalsky. “Nothing threatens the ship, there is no structural damage, and the crew is occupied with their routine work,” the captain said. “We work round the clock, and the fact that it is summer in the Antarctic and nights are bright makes the situation easier,” he said.
The captain said the ship’s 22 crew were Russian seamen, while scientists from an Australian Antarctic expedition were its passengers. There are also some travelers among the 52 passengers, including from New Zealand, Great Britain, Argentine, Chile, the Netherlands and China.
The research trip was ice-trapped some 180 kilometers off the Antarctic coast overnight to Wednesday. The expedition started from New Zealand at the end of November, and was due to end early in January. According to the captain, after being released from ice, the ship is to head for Australian-administrated Macquarie Island after which it will return back to New Zealand. The head of the Australian Antarctic expedition, Chris Turney, confirmed this, saying plans were to return to New Zealand on January 4 or 5.