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July 16, 2002

Biggest concern in Antarctic

MOSCOW, July 15, 2002 (Reuters) - Members from a Russian Antarctic expedition that was trapped in pack ice arrived in St. Petersburg on Friday, happy to be home and joking that their biggest worry had been a lack of cigarettes.

The 79-man Russian mission had arrived to great fanfare in Cape Town on Wednesday aboard the South African research vessel Agulhas, which undertook a daring 24-day rescue after the mission's German-registered ship became trapped in ice.

An initial group of 21 expedition members flew into St. Petersburg, Russia's second city, to tears and hugs from friends and relatives, and reassured them that they had been in no real danger. The remaining members will fly back to Russia next week.

"There was nothing dangerous about being on the icebreaker. Our time spent at the (Antarctic) station is in more extreme conditions," station cook Vladimir Skochii told state RTR television.

"Of course it was not very pleasant but it was OK. Toward the end we just had problems finding cigarettes."

Mission member Dmitry Serov told ORT television that the men had played dominoes and cards, basketball and other sports to pass the time aboard the trapped ship.

"There's a good sports hall there and a swimming pool and a sauna," he said.

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