11 Jan 2012

Korean sailors' bodies unlikely to be recovered

6:21 pm on 11 January 2012

New Zealand's Rescue Coordination Centre says it is unlikely the bodies of three sailors presumed dead in Antarctic waters will be recovered from their sinking ship.

Forty crew were on board the Jeong Woo 2 which sent out a mayday call from the Ross Sea, about 3700km south-east of New Zealand, about 3am on Wednesday.

The rescue centre says it is unsure what caused the fire, but it started in the ship's accommodation block and spread quickly.

The distress call was picked up by another Korean fishing vessel and relayed to the centre. Five vessels responded, including sister ship Jeong Woo 3, which was about 35 minutes away.

Thirty-seven crew members were plucked from the ship to safety. Seven people have suffered burns - two of them so extensively that they are unable to walk.

A senior search and rescue coordinator at the centre says the men will be transferred to US research vessel the Nathaniel B. Palmer, which has a small hospital and medics on board, and taken to McMurdo Base in Antarctica.

Mike Roberts says the injured will probably be evacuated from the base to Christchurch in New Zealand by air. However, it is unlikely that the bodies of the sailors presumed dead will be recovered.

The Transport Accident Investigation Commission says it is unable to investigate the incident because it is outside New Zealand's territorial waters, but it will help Korean authorities if asked.