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SYDNEY, December 28, 12:57 /ITAR-TASS/. The Australian icebreaker Aurora Australis is expected to come to the ice-trapped research ship Akademik Shokalsky at about 14:00 Moscow time on Sunday, the Russian ship's captain Igor Kiselyov told Itar-Tass by telephone.
"After the Chinese ship failed to break through the ice towards us and stopped about 6.7 miles away, we are waiting for the Australian icebreaker, which is more powerful. It is expected to come at about 23:00 ship time (14:00 Moscow time)," the captain said.
When asked about the decision of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority's decision to let the French ship Astrolabe leave the area, the captain said "I myself let it leave. It is a less powerful vessel and could not have reached us."
The weather is good. The temperature is three degrees. It is snowing lightly. The wind of five-seven metres a second blows from the southeast. The ice is two-three-m thick around, Kiselyov said. "We continue hoping the wind will change to western, north-western or southwestern and then we will try ourselves to get out," he said.
China’s icebreaker has failed to reach the Russian research ship trapped in ice off Antarctica. “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,” the captain said.
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.
The captain said the temperature of water overboard was two degrees above freezing. There was a huge iceberg, B09B, fifteen miles away. It was a major factor that caused the ice to get thicker. If the wind changes to western, north-western or south-western, it may be possible to get out. However, according to the weather forecast, such a change was not expected for the next few days.
The Akademik Shokalsky has 74 people on board - the Russian crew, 22 people, 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 continue 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. 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 region when at once three other ships are relatively near, the captain noted.