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Evacuation of passengers from ice-trapped ship in Antarctica likely Jan 3

January 02, 2014, 6:42 UTC+3 SYDNEY
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SYDNEY, January 02, /ITAR-TASS/. Evacuation of passengers from the Russian research ship MV Akademik Shokalsky, which is trapped in thick ice off some 100 km off Antarctica’s Adelie Land, will most probably be done January 3, not January 2, the ship’s captain Igor Kiselyov told Itar-Tass.

The Akademik Shokalsky has 74 people aboard - a 22-strong Russian crew and 52 passengers, some of them researchers from the Australian Antarctic Expedition and others being accompanying travelers.

A decision was taken earlier that the crew would stay behind on the ship and the passengers would be evacuated - first airlifted to the Chinese ship Xue Long positioned close enough to the Akademik Shokalsky and then taken by barge to the Australian icebreaker Aurora Australis, currently in the same area.

“The Chinese ships is separated by a distance of 11.8 miles /about 22 km/ from us, while the distance between us and the Australians is 14.4 miles /about 27 km/,” Capt Kiselyov said. “They are so far staying within the ice cover zone and are trying to get out of it into clear water. Evacuation will begin only after that.”

“On the basis of information we had at 03:30 Moscow Standard Time /23:30 GMT Wednesday/ I think the evacuation most probably won’t begin today although the situation may change very quickly,” he said.

Chief of rescue operations at the Australian Maritime Safety Authority /AMSA/, John Young, voiced the hope the operation would begin shortly. He said, however, along with it that a decision of the exact time for the start of the evacuation was to be taken by the captains of the three ships.

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.

Each cruise of the helicopter will last 45 or so minutes and the whole operation will thus last about 5 hours.

AMSA points out a considerable improvement of weather in the area of the planned operation, with wind slowing down and the visibility improving noticeably.

At the same time, AMSA staff members decline to say when the passengers might return to Australia. John Young said he hoped his might take place in mid-January.

When Itar-Tass asked Captain Kiselyov why the crew of the Akademik Shokalsky had refused to evacuate, he said: “Nothing is threatening the ship and it’s functioning in the scheduled mode but we’ve found ourselves in the grips of ice.”

“We hope for a change of the direction of wind because we’d be able to get out of here independently,” Capt Kiselyov said. “Also, we hope to get assistance from the U.S. icebreaker Polar Star, which will cope with our ice without any problem.”

John Young told Itar-Tass the Akademik Shokalsky is out of danger and the options for further handling of the situation around the ship do exist but they seem to be far less efficacious than evacuation.

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