Stricken Russian boat in 'precarious position'

18th December 2011, Comments 0 comments

A stricken Russian fishing vessel stranded in icy Antarctic waters was in a "precarious position" Sunday, New Zealand rescuers said two days after the vessel was holed by an iceberg.

The crew of the Sparta had a scare overnight when temporary patches placed over the damaged section of hull failed and the boat began taking on water again.

But several hours later they reported they again had the situation under control.

The Russian-flagged Sparta, with a crew of 32, sent out a distress call early Friday from near the Antarctic ice shelf when it was holed 1.5 metres below the water line and started to list.

It will be several days before rescue ships can make their way through heavy sea ice to reach the vessel about 2,000 nautical miles (3,704 kilometres) southeast of New Zealand.

However, a New Zealand Air Force Hercules was able to fly over the Sparta late Saturday and drop off extra pumping equipment and fuel.

"Sparta remained in a precarious position," New Zealand search and rescue coordinator Dave Wilson said.

"This highlights the importance of the mission in delivering the pumping equipment yesterday. This equipment has enabled them to get on top of the water ingress again, and they will now be working to fix the patches more securely."

Wilson said with rescue still days away, the stabilisation work was vital for the vessel and its crew.

"They have life rafts but with the conditions down there, its much safer for them if they can wait for rescue on board their vessel."

Two vessels, the Sel Jevaer and Chiyo Maru No 3 were struggling to navigate a circuitous route through the ice and would take several days to reach Spartas position.

A South Korean icebreaker, Araon, which was docked in New Zealand, has been commissioned by the Sparta's owners to assist. It set sail early Sunday and will take eight days to reach the area.

A New Zealand fishing boat, San Aspiring, was pulled from the rescue operation on Saturday after advising conditions were too difficult for it to proceed.

"San Aspiring was 470 nautical miles away from Sparta but would have had to travel much further than that to reach the vessel, because there was no direct line through the ice," Wilson said.

"They confirmed the journey would take too long and would potentially put their own crew in danger."

© 2011 AFP

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