Russian Fishing Vessel Sinking in Antarctic Waters

AVALON, New Zealand, December 16, 2011 (ENS) – A Russian fishing vessel with 32 crew members aboard issued a distress call around 3 am, after taking on water in the Ross Sea near the Antarctic ice shelf.

The Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand, RCCNZ, has confirmed that the 55 meter (180 foot) Sparta, is taking on water and currently has a 13 degree list.

RCCNZ, which is coordinating the rescue effort, says two other fishing vessels are making their way towards the stricken Sparta. They are expected to take four to five days to reach the area, about 2,000 nautical miles (3,704 kilometers) southeast of New Zealand.

The Russian fishing vessel Sparta (Photo courtesy Sedna Industries Inc.)

Homeported in Sovetskaya Gavan on Russia’s Pacific coast, Sparta is registered to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky and is operated by Antiy, a Russian company that is part of a group of companies that includes Sedna Industries Inc., based in San Diego, California.

Speaking from the office of Sedna Industries, Andrey Kulish said the crew, made up of 14 Russians, 16 Indonesians and two scientific observers, one Russian and one Ukrainian, are understood to be safe.

The 23-year-old longliner is carrying around 180 tonnes of marine gas oil, said Kulish.

The crew is pumping water out of the holds and discharging cargo onto the ice to lighten the vessel. Some of the crew have been offloaded onto the ice, as a precautionary measure.

RCCNZ search and rescue mission coordinator Ramon Davis said RCCNZ is in radio contact with Sparta and has contacted a number of vessels operating in the Southern Ocean for assistance, but heavy sea ice is making vessel movement difficult.

Sparta’s sister ship, Chiyo Maru no. 3, is making its way towards the stricken vessel from about 290 nautical miles away but has no capacity to cut or break through sea ice.

The New Zealand vessel San Aspiring, which has some capacity to move through ice, also is making its way towards the Sparta. San Aspiring is currently 470 nautical miles away and at its current speed is expected to reach the vessel in four to five days.

A third vessel is only 19 nautical miles away but is hemmed in by heavy ice and unable to move towards Sparta.

Davis said a Hercules aircraft from McMurdo Station is in the air and expected to reach Sparta around midday. A U.S. Antarctic research center located on the southern tip of Ross Island, McMurdo Station is the largest community in Antarctica.

The aircraft would not be able to rescue any of the crew, but it would assess the ice conditions and help identify options for speeding up the rescue effort, if possible.

Iceberg locked in sea ice, Ross Sea, December 11, 2011 (Photo by Brook Peterson)

Davis said there are no helicopters which could undertake a rescue in the area and the best option to assist Sparta is identifying a nearby vessel that could come to its aid.

Davis said RCCNZ is continuing to contact vessels in the Southern Ocean to see if any others with ice capability could assist.

“We are working to find a way to speed the rescue up, but it is possible the crew will have a fairly long wait for rescue,” Davis said.

“We have confirmed the crew has immersion suits on board and other resources which will assist them to survive if they have to abandon the ship,” he said.

The weather in the area currently is calm and the temperature is about three degrees Centigrade.

On November 29, 2011, the Australia-based Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources licensed Sparta to fish for Ross Sea toothfish, prized by high-end restaurants around the world.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2011. All rights reserved.