MOSCOW, January 2 (RIA Novosti) – Maritime authorities in Australia said Thursday that operations to rescue passengers on a Russian research ship trapped by ice in the Antarctic Sea will commence soon.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority said in a statement that weather conditions in the area in which the Akademik Shokalskiy is stranded have improved, enabling rescue operations by helicopter.
"Wind in the area is now down to 10 knots and visibility has improved. Weather conditions are expected to remain favorable over the next 36 hours," the statement said.
The rescue helicopter will be dispatched from the Chinese-flagged vessel Xue Long, situated around 12 nautical miles (22 kilometers) from the Akademik Shokalskiy, AMSA said.
While all 52 passengers are to be evacuated, the 22 crew members will remain onboard.
"The passengers will be rescued by helicopter in groups of 12 and will be initially transported to the Xue Long," AMSA said in its statement.
The rescue trips by helicopter are expected to take a minimum of five hours, depending on weather conditions.
The team of scientists and tourists on the Akademik Shokalskiy had been retracing a famous Australian Antarctic Expedition from 101 years ago. The fare for tourists was $15,000 apiece, according to the Expeditions Online tour agency website.
The agency described the ship, built by a Finnish shipyard for the Soviet Union in 1982 for polar research, as “fully ice-strengthened.”