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Russian Fishing Ship Left Helpless and Taking on Water near Antarctica

By MarEx 2011-12-16 11:55:11

A Russian fishing vessel with 32 crew members is taking on water and attempting to repair a ruptured hull as it sits next to the Antarctic ice shelf awaiting rescue about 2,000 nautical miles south east of New Zealand in the Ross Sea.  

The Russian fishing vessel, Sparta, issued a distress call around 3am Friday from a location next to the Antarctic ice shelf that the ship has a 1-foot (30cm) hole in the side, about 1.5m below water line.  Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ) reported that the vessel is listing 13 degrees, and taking on water.  To combat the listing, the crew has thrown cargo aboard to lighten the ship and some crew members have boarded life boats as a precautionary measure.

PHOTO: photo released by Maritime New Zealand, the Russian fishing vessel Sparta is seen in waters in the Ross Sea near Antarctica on Friday Dec. 16, 2011

RCCNZ rescue coordinator Ramon Davis, told Maritime New Zealand that the crew of the Sparta has managed to keep up with the influx of water, and have attached a tarpaulin on the outside of the hull that has helped to slow the intake rate. Davis also said that in their distress call the crew requested more pump to allow increase of pumping speed, and to replace backup pumps they are already using for the operation. 

Three ships have been dispatched to answer Sparta’s call for aid, but are facing difficulties reaching them due to heavy sea ice.  The three vessels sent were Sparta’s sister ship, Chiyo Maru no. 3 with no ice breaking ability, the New Zealand vessel San Aspiring which can move through ice but is still 4 days away, and a third ship that is only 19 nautical miles away, but hemmed in ice and unable to proceed towards Sparta. 

The RCCNZ is currently trying to assess how to deliver the pumps to Sparta so they can make repairs to the hull in case aid ships are unable to reach them soon, but added that it’s possible the crew will have a fairly long wait to be rescued.  They hope that if the crew manages to lighten the ship enough with cargo dumping, and water pumping, that the hole in the hull would rise above the water line. 

Aircrafts were sent to monitor the ice situation of Sparta, but would not be able to pick up the crew from the ship.

The crew remains stranded near the Antarctic ice shelf, one of the most remote and unforgiving locations on the planet, with limited provisions.  UPDATE: A C130 Hercules aircraft is en route to drop pumps, fuel, and equipment to Sparta.

It is unclear still what caused the hole in the hull, though an iceberg would be a probable candidate. 

MarEx will provide updates on the dire situation for those 32 men as the situation develops.