SYDNEY, January 02, /ITAR-TASS/. Evacuation of passengers stranded aboard the Russian research ship MV Akademik Shokalsky should begin within hours, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) said.
The ship has been trapped in thick ice some 100 nautical miles off the coast of Antarctica has a 22-strong Russian crew and 52 passengers, some of them researchers from the Australian Antarctic Expedition and others being the accompanying passengers.
The crew will stay behind aboard the ship and passengers will be evacuated.
The evacuation effort will be a multinational one, as it will engage a helicopter deployed aboard the Chinese ship Xue Long, which is currently positioned about 12 nautical miles away from the Akademik Shokalsky. In the second phase of the operation, the researchers and travelers will be airlifted to the Australian icebreaker Aurora Australis.
AMSA spokeswoman Lisa Martin told Itar-Tass the helicopter is expected to make a total of seven flights to the Akademik Shokalsky - five flights to evacuate people and two more flights to take away their luggage and equipment.
AMSA points out a considerable improvement of weather in the area of the planned operation, with wind slowing down and the visibility improving noticeably.
Weather forecasts say the weather is likely to be quite favorable for the operation for the next 16 hours as a minimum.