SYDNEY, December 30. /ITAR-TASS/. The Australian icebreaker Aurora Australis slowly advances towards the Russian ice-nipped research ship Akademik Shokalsky, the Russian vessel's shipmaster Igor Kiselyov told ltar-Tass by telephone."At present, the Australian icebreaker is at a distance of 14 miles away," Kiselyov said. "The icebreaker moles at changeable speed, looking for an optimum way for advance. It is difficult for it to make progress: a snow blizzard has begun and visibility is about 300 meters".
Kiselyov's opinion is that "At best, the icebreaker will be able to get to us in about six hours' time".
On board the ice-nipped research vessel, there are 74 people — a Russian crew (22 members) and 52 passengers — a group of scientists from the Australian Antarctic expedition and travelers accompanying them. "The atmosphere aboard the ship is absolutely normal. We are working and waiting for the arrival of the Australian icebreaker," the shipmaster emphasized..
Lisa Martin, spokeswoman of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, told Itar-Tass in an interview that at 03:30 Moscow time (GMT+4), the icebreaker Aurora Australis was about eleven miles away from the Russian ship. She said visibility in the areas is very poor and the icebreaker is moving slowly, battling with the ice. Considering the adverse weather conditions and the ice situation, "we do not know so far whether the icebreaker will manage to approach the Akademik Shokalsky," she said.
Martin added that if the icebreaker fails to break through the ice, a helicopter which is available on board the Chinese ship Xuelong, which is nearby, is likely to be used to evacuate the crew and passengers of the Akademik Shokalsky to safety.