Rescuers abandon search for missing trawler crew
WELLINGTON // Rescuers on 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 couldn't 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 6:30am on Monday (1730 Sunday GMT), going down so quickly that Maritime New Zealand said it didn't 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, said on 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 New Zealand said sending a plane was "not viable" because it was an eight-hour flight.
In addition, Maritime New Zealand said it wasn't told about the accident until Monday afternoon, more than six hours after it occurred.
Maritime New Zealand 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 wasn't 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 said.
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.
Published: December 14, 2010 04:00 AM