17 Dec 2011

Mayday in Southern Ocean

5:41 am on 17 December 2011

The crew of a Russian vessel in trouble near the Antarctic ice shelf have attached a tarpaulin to the outside of the hull, which is slowing the rate of water into the hold.

The fishing vessel, Sparta, which has 32 crew on board, issued a distress call at about 3am on Friday (NZT) after it started taking on water.

The Rescue Coordination Centre says the 48m vessel is about 3,700 kilometres south east of New Zealand.

It has a 30cm hole in the side 1.5 metres below the water line and is on a 13 degree list.

Rescue mission co-ordinator, Ramon Davis, says the crew are continuing with pumping and are managing to keep ahead of the water that is coming in.

Mr Davis says three vessels sent to Sparta's aid are facing difficulties because of heavy sea ice in the area.

Heavy ice is making movement difficult. Non-essential crew have left the ship and are on the ice.

The Interfax news agency said the Sparta had been blocked in and holed by ice in the south-east of the Ross Sea.

The distress call was picked up by Norway and passed on to New Zealand, which is co-ordinating the rescue efforts.

The Environmental & Conservation Organisation says the Sparta has a licence to fish for toothfish in the Ross Sea.

But co-chair Barry Weeber says the vessel is further south than perhaps it should be for this time of year.

The Sparta is the second vessel in just over a year to get into trouble near the ice shelf.

Antarctic New Zealand

Antarctica New Zealand chief executive Lou Sanson says he flew over the Ross Sea on Friday and conditions were sunny and calm.

But, he says the sea was full of ice in the area in the east of the Ross Sea where the ship is stuck.

Mr Sanson says the Sparta is in a remote spot, which is not a traditional shipping route, which could make getting to and recovering the ship difficult.