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SYDNEY, December 28, 10:20 /ITAR-TASS/. China’s icebreaker has failed to reach the Russian research ship Akademik Shokalsky trapped in ice off Antarctica, the Russian ship’s captain, Igor Kiselyov, has told Itar-Tass by telephone.
“The Chinese icebreaker stopped about 6.7 miles away from us,” the captain said. “It has not got stuck, but cannot come nearer. Now we shall be waiting for the arrival of the Australian icebreaker Aurora Australis. It is much more powerful. I think it will manage to make its way towards us.”
An Australian Maritime Safety Authority officer told Itar-Tass the French ship Astrolabe, which was nearby, was ordered to leave the area. It is of no help, because it is less powerful than the Chinese one and is surely unable to operate in such adverse ice conditions. Thus, the Australian icebreaker is expected to rescue the Akademik Shokalsky, and the Chinese ship will help it if necessary, she added.
Kiselyov said the Australian icebreaker was expected to approach the Akademik Shokalsky at 19:00 local time (at about Sunday noon Moscow time).
There is also some hope for the wind to change, the captain said. The temperature of water overboard is two degrees above freezing. The southeastern wind measures seven meters per second. There is a huge iceberg, B09B, fifteen miles away. It is a major factor that causes the ice to get thicker. "Should the wind’s direction change for western, north-western or south-western, we may try to get out on our own. However, according to the weather forecast I have, such a change cannot be expected over the next few days,” Kiselyov said.
The Akademik Shokalsky has 74 people on board - 22 crew and 52 passengers - a group of scientists from the Australian Antarctic expedition and travelers.
“The situation on board is normal and business-like,” Kiselyov said. “No panic, no complaints. The crew keep doing their job. The scientists proceed with their research, drill ice, take water samples, hold science briefings and arrange lectures for each other and watch movies, in other words, find dozens of ways to get through this unusual experience.”
An Australian Maritime Safety Authority spokesperson confirmed to Itar-Tass that the Australian icebreaker was expected to reach the trapped ship on Sunday evening. All possible developments, including evacuation of the people, were under consideration. The Chinese ship has a helicopter aboard that may be used to airlift people. The situation aboard the Akademik Shokalsky remained stable. The vessel and the passengers were safe, she confirmed.
The Australian captain told the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper that everything would depend on the weather and the ice. There was a hope the wind would change to open the ice, he said. According to him, the developments may be either "bad or good". The Aurora Australis may break the ice around the Akademik Shokalsky, and it will get out, or it has got stuck so heavily that the people will have to be evacuated to the nearby ships. They are lucky -- it is not often in the Antarctic area when at once three other ships are relatively nearby, the captain noted.