20 Nov 2013

Crew had only minutes to survive, inquest told

9:10 pm on 20 November 2013

Twenty-two fishermen who died when their vessel capsized in the Ross Sea had only minutes to survive, an inquest in Invercargill has been told.

Korean fishing boat No. 1 Insung with 42 people on board capsized after being swamped by rogue waves while trawling for toothfish in December 2010. Half the crew perished in the icy cold waters.

Coroner Richard McElrea wanted to clarify how many people actually died, as official Korean figures showed that 21 people died while New Zealand police figures listed 22 deaths.

Police say four bodies were pulled from the water, while 17 people remained missing. One man who was pulled from the water alive later died.

The inquest was told on Wednesday that those on board faced almost impossible odds when the trawler was struck by two rogue waves 2700km southeast of Bluff.

Witness statements described the vessel sinking within five to seven minutes. As water gushed into the engine room, the crew clung to the side of the vessel, but many were swept away before they could get into liferafts.

No emergency distress call was made by the captain and it was six hours before the authorities in New Zealand knew about the catastrophe. By then, it was too late to send an Air Force Orion with crucial survival equipment that could have been dropped at the site.

The head of the Rescue Co-ordination Centre, Nigel Clifford, told the hearing that the men had less than an hour at best in the icy waters before they succumbed to hypothermia. Some would have died in minutes from cardiac arrest.

Mr Clifford said more needs to be done to ensure that the international fishing community is prepared for such a disaster and that crew members know what to do.

The New Zealand inquest is set down for three days.

Korea inquest

An earlier inquest in Korea found that the crew were unprepared for the seriousness of the accident and pumps designed to remove water were not working.

A Korean Maritime Safety report said that the trawler overturned and sank because crew members failed to keep the trawling door shutter and the door of the passageway closed in bad weather.

The report criticised the captain for failing to evacuate the ship in a timely manner. The ship's owner was criticised for having safety instructions written in a language most of the crew could not understand.

People from six different countries were on board, but safety regulations were written only in Korean. The report recommended all safety rules be translated into the languages of all crew members.

Seven of the crew, including the captain, were Korean. The remaining crew comprised of eight Chinese seamen, 11 from Indonesia, 11 Vietnamese and three Filipino sailors.