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Crew and guests on Russian research ship trapped in Antarctic ice set to mark New Year

December 31, 2013, 14:37 UTC+3 SYDNEY
The crew is doing without any alcohol and the passengers have a bar at their disposal
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SYDNEY, December 31. /ITAR-TASS/. Crewmembers and passengers of the Russian research ship MV Akademik Shokalsky, trapped in thick ice off Antarctica's coast, are set to see in the New Year, the vessel’s chief mate Nikolai Velichko told Itar-Tass.

“We’re getting ready to welcome the New Year,” he said. Based on the ship's time zone location, turn of the calendar year is due to take place at 15:00 hours Moscow Standard Time or 11:00 hours GMT.

“Right now we’re in the middle of a gala dinner,” Nikolai went on. “Quite naturally, the crew is doing without any alcohol and the passengers have a bar at their disposal. They are having some drinks and obviously enjoying themselves. As for us, we continue doing our work,” he said.

Stranded aboard the Akademik Shokalsky are 74 people — a 22-strong Russian crew and 52 passengers, researchers of the Australian Antarctic expedition and a few travelers accompanying them.

The crew has completed preparations for the passengers' evacuation, to be airlifted by a helicopter deployed aboard the Chinese icebreaker Xue Long and currently located some 8.5 nautical miles (about 15.3 km) northeast of the Russian ship.

Passengers will first be taken to the Xue Long and then transported to an Australian icebreaker, also cruising in the area.

“The specific dates of evacuation will depend on the weather,” chief mate Velichko said. “The wind is too strong now and visibility is poor. But forecasts speak of possible improvements on Wednesday afternoon and an entirely sunny day is expected on Thursday, January 2.”

“We’ve already marked off a landing pad for the helicopter on the ice about 40 meters away from our ship and have put control flags along the pathway leading to it,” he said. “This means we’re full ready.”

After the evacuation of the passengers, the crew will remain aboard Akademik Shokalsky.

“We’ll extricate our breadwinner from captivity,” Velichko said, referring to the ship in the manner of tender allegory. “Hopefully, the weather will improve, the ice will move away and we’ll try to get out of here on our own then.”

“We also hope for assistance from the powerful U.S. icebreaker Polar Star,” Velichko said.

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