MOSCOW, August 24 (RIA Novosti's Alexander Kovalev) - Alexey Mikhailov, head of the Chelyuskin search expedition, does not rule out that the expeditions' members have after all found the legendary steamer.

"An object covered with thick silt layer was detected in the Chukchi Sea, and it may be the legendary steamer Chelyuskin", said Mr. Mikhailov in an exclusive interview to RIA Novosti.

On Tuesday he returned to Moscow.

On Monday, Evgeni Kupavnykh, Moscow project coordinator of the Russian ship search expedition, told RIA Novosti that the expedition's members aboard the science research ship Academician Lavrentiev had found the legendary steamer Chelyuskin on the bottom of the Chukchi Sea (Russia's Far East) and dived to it several times.

Early on Tuesday, the Chukotka Autonomous District's official web site published a report saying that the search of the steamer Chelyuskin, which had sunk in the Chukchi Sea 70 years ago, gave no positive results.

"Using the Sonar sensor and the remotely-controlled TSL underwater apparatus we detected an object corresponding to the Chelyuskin in dimensions, though lying under a thick layer of bottom sediments, while no signs on the bottom surface were found", Mr. Mikhailov told RIA Novosti. According to him, the probability of this object's being the Chelyuskin is very high, because "it is situated in the very spot, where it is likely to be".

In response to the question why there was no confidence that the detected object was the Chelyuskin, Mr, Mikhailov said "Because it lies so deep in the silt that the divers could not get to it by hand. It requires hydraulic pumps that could pump out the silt and get to the supposed object".

Mr. Mikhailov admits that the detected underwater anomaly may as well be a rock. "It may be a sunken rock or any other foreign object, though judging from the adjacent terrain's geology it is hardly possible. So, it is most likely the Chelyuskin, said the head of theexpedition.

According to Mr. Mikhailov, the detected object lies at the depth of about 50 meters. "The underwater visibility is very low, so even if we saw anything, it would be difficult to film anything", he pointed out. At the same time, Mr Mikhailov said that all the previous cases of the legendary steamer detection were fake.

"All those descriptions that a 12-meter hill was found on the bottom do not quadrate to facts and our expedition proved it", he said.

Mr. Mikhailov did not deny that their search area corresponded to the earlier reported grid reference. "However, the works allegedly performed by previous expeditions were not proven by any discoveries, which makes me doubtful about their reliability", said Mr. Mikhailov with this regard.

According to him, in 2005 a new expedition will be dispatched to the supposed place of the Chelyuskin wreck. "It is scheduled for mid-June 2005", said Mr. Mikhailov.

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