SYDNEY, January 08, 13:56 /ITAR-TASS/. The Russian research ship Akademik Shokalsky has finally got out of the ice and reached open water, chief mate Nikolai Velichko told Itar-Tass on Wednesday.
"We reached open water at about 18:20 ship time (about 09:20 Moscow time), he said.
The ship was sailing at 11 knots. There was fog, no wind, and visibility was within two miles. The vessel was moving carefully with only one engine working, as icebergs were detected with locators, the mate noted.
They are expected to arrive at New Zealand's port of Bluff early on January 14.
The Chinese icebreaker also safely left the ice area, passed the Russian ship and sailed north at 15 knots, the mate added.
The Akademik Shokalsky, which was trapped in Antarctic ice for two weeks, finally has got out of the ice captivity and was "confidently moving to open water", the ship's captain Igor Kiselyov told Itar-Tass earlier on Wednesday.
The Chinese icebreaker, which participated in the rescue operation and also was blocked in the ice, has also safely got out of the ice trap and sailed north, the Russian captain said.
He added he had contacted the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, informed the service about the situation and thanked for the help.
As the Russian and Chinese ships need no help any more, the American icebreaker Polar Star, which was on the way to help them, has returned back to its route toward an Antarctic station.
The Akademik Shokalsky crew are safe and well. The people feel great, the captain noted.
The Russian ship with 74 people aboard -- 22 Russian crewmembers and 52 passengers, a group of Australian Antarctic expedition researchers and accompanying travelers -- got stuck in the ice on the night to December 25. The ship was only one mile short of the open water, Kiselyov said. However, the strong southeastern wind caused formation of thick ice, which blocked the vessel and extended tens of miles from it.
The Chinese icebreaker Snow Dragon and the Australian ship Aurora Australis rushed to help, but both failed to reach the Akademik Shokalsky. Ultimately, the decision was taken on January 2 to evacuate passengers with the use of the Chinese helicopter that was aboard the icebreaker. All the researchers and travelers and scientific equipment were evacuated to the Australian icebreaker. The Akademik Shokalsky crew remained aboard their ship. The same day, the Chinese icebreaker also got stuck in the ice. After the wind changed to western on January 7, the ice field began cracking. Both ships' captains used the favourable situation to move out of the ice.