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Search called off for missing crew from SKorean trawler

by Staff Writers
Wellington (AFP) Dec 14, 2010
Rescuers Tuesday abandoned the search for 17 seamen lost after a South Korean trawler sank in icy waters off Antarctica, saying there was no hope they survived a tragedy that has claimed 22 lives.

Five crew died immediately after the No. 1 Insung, with 42 trawlermen aboard, went down in the remote area Monday in an accident the boat's owners said may have been caused by an iceberg.

Twenty fishermen were plucked to safety by another South Korean vessel.

There were initial hopes some of the missing crew may have scrambled onto a lifeboat but they were dashed when three South Korean trawlers searched overnight and found nothing.

The missing could not have endured 30 hours in the Southern Ocean without proper immersion suits, Maritime New Zealand said.

"Survival times for crew members in the water would be very short," rescue coordinator Dave Wilson said.

"The medical advice is that those who did not suffer cardiac arrest on entering the water would likely be unconscious after one hour, and unable to be resuscitated after two hours."

"Unfortunately, the Southern Ocean is an extremely unforgiving environment... sadly, it is exceedingly unlikely that anyone not picked up yesterday could have survived," Wilson said.

The trawler sank suddenly at 6:30 am on Monday (1730 Sunday GMT), going down so quickly that Maritime NZ said it did not send an SOS and crew members had no chance to put on protective gear in the rush to escape.

A coastguard spokesman in the South Korean port of Busan, where the ship is based, told AFP Monday there were eight Koreans, eight Chinese, 11 Indonesians, 11 Vietnamese, three Filipinos and one Russian on board.

The nationalities of the dead are not known.

The accident took place 1,000 nautical miles north of the McMurdo Antarctic base and 1,500 nautical miles from New Zealand's southern tip.

The freezing conditions and remote location meant the prospect of finding anyone else alive was always slim.

It would have taken days for ships from New Zealand to reach the area and Maritime NZ said sending a plane was "not viable" because it was an eight-hour flight.

In addition, Maritime NZ said it was not told about the accident until Monday afternoon, more than six hours after it occurred.

Maritime NZ said none of the 20 fishermen plucked from the waters by the No. 707 Hongjin soon after the accident needed medical treatment.

The foreign ministry in Seoul said two South Korean ships were still in the area and a Russian fishing vessel was expected to join them in a bid to recover the 17 crew members lost at sea.

"Bad weather in the area is making search operations difficult," a ministry spokesman said.

The No. 1 Insung was built in Japan in 1979, according to the website of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, the global body overseeing fishing in Antarctic waters.

The boat was not believed to have been ice strengthened for Antarctic waters, although immediate confirmation of this was unavailable.

Another South Korean trawler, the Oyang 70, sank in the Southern Ocean in August this year, with the loss of six lives.

Inquiries into that accident are continuing and New Zealand's Transport Accident Investigation Commission said it was ready to assist any probe into the latest sinking if asked by the South Korean Maritime Safety Tribunal.

"Because it's a Korean-flagged vessel and it occurred in international waters, it's their lead," commission spokesman Peter Northcote told AFP.

The stricken trawler was fishing for Patagonian toothfish, a rare species that lives in waters so cold that Greenpeace says it has a form of anti-freeze in its blood.

The fish, marketed as Chilean sea bass, is popular in South America, the US and Japan and is often caught illegally.

Greenpeace, which says the Patagonian toothfish is known as "white gold" in the industry for its highly valued flesh, lists it as a species in danger of being unsustainable.

earlier related report
22 feared dead after SKorean trawler sinks in Antarctica
Wellington (AFP) Dec 13, 2010 - A South Korean trawler sank suddenly and without warning off Antarctica Monday, killing up to 22 fishermen, with its owners saying it may have collided with an iceberg.

Rescuers said the 22 men from the No. 1 Insung had no chance to don protective gear as they scrambled to escape the trawler and were presumed dead as they had only 10 minutes' survival time in the icy waters.

The trawler went down so fast it did not even have a chance to send an SOS before plunging to the depths of the Southern Ocean, Maritime New Zealand said.

Insung Corporation spokesman Ryan Kim said the company was trying to understand what happened.

"The boat sank in about 30 minutes. We are trying hard to find the reason why it sank so quickly," he told AFP.

"We believe the vessel might have been hit by an iceberg or a strong wave, although we have yet to secure any evidence of this. We are now collecting information from the surviving crew."

Another trawler plucked 20 fishermen from the sea shortly after the ship sank about 6:30am (1730 Sunday GMT) but the rest of the 42-strong crew had only minutes to live without proper immersion suits.

Five died immediately and rescuers initially hoped some of the 17 missing had reached a lifeboat.

Maritime New Zealand coordinated desperate efforts by five trawlers to search the remote area 1,000 nautical miles north of the McMurdo Antarctic base and 1,500 nautical miles from New Zealand's southern tip.

But rescue controller Dave Wilson admitted defeat late Monday, saying "it was increasingly unlikely further survivors would be found".

Maritime NZ spokesman Ross Henderson said the boat appeared to have gone down in calm conditions and did not send an SOS.

"We had no distress signal. At this stage we don't know what caused the vessel to sink," he told AFP.

"There was no emergency communication or beacon alert of any type, which we would normally expect in these sort of situations. We don't know what the reason for that is."

A coastguard spokesman in the southern South Korean port of Busan, where the ship is based, told AFP there were eight Koreans, eight Chinese, 11 Indonesians, 11 Vietnamese, three Filipinos and one Russian on board.

Chinese state media said there were four Chinese among the missing, but the other victims' nationalities were unknown.

The waters around Antarctica are notoriously rough but Henderson said conditions Monday consisted of light 10 knot winds and a one-metre (3.3-foot) swell.

He said New Zealand, which is in charge of rescue operations in the area, was not informed of the accident until 1:00pm, about six and a half hours after it occurred.

Plans to send a Royal New Zealand Air Force long-range Orion plane were "not viable" because it would take at least eight hours to reach the location and the crew members would certainly be dead by then, Henderson said.

The 20 survivors and bodies were on another South Korean fishing vessel, No. 707 Hongjin.

The stricken trawler was fishing for Patagonian toothfish, a rare species that lives in waters so cold that Greenpeace says it has a form of anti-freeze in its blood.

The fish, marketed as Chilean seabass, is popular in South America, the US and Japan and is often illegally caught.

Greenpeace, which says the Patagonian toothfish is known as "white gold" in the industry for its highly valued flesh, lists it as a species in danger of being unsustainable.

The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), the global body overseeing fishing in Antarctic waters, said Insung had submitted papers to renew the trawler's licence just before it sank.

The No.1 Insung was one of seven South Korean vessels licensed to fish in the Southern Ocean, five of which were hunting toothfish, CCAMLR said.

"The Korean fleet is not the dominant fleet but it's one of the major operators in the Southern Ocean targeting toothfish," CCAMLR director Andrew Wright told AFP. It had a permit to trawl Antarctic waters until June 2014.




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Volunteers in Virginia and North Carolina say they've been busy rescuing cold-affected sea turtles and finding them temporary homes in aquariums. A sudden onset of freezing temperatures has caught many of the creatures too far north and left them lethargic and unable to move. "I think the temperature's just dropped so quickly that they haven't gotten out yet," Christina Trapani o ... read more

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