N.Zealand plane in dash to stricken Russian boat

16th December 2011, Comments 0 comments

A New Zealand Air Force plane is to make a mercy dash to the Antarctic Saturday to drop equipment and fuel to a stricken Russian fishing boat taking on water in the freezing Southern Ocean.

The Sparta, with a crew of 32, sent out a distress call early Friday after it was holed 1.5 metres below the water line and tilted on a 13 degree list near the Antarctic ice shelf.

The crew have since been able to remove water from the hold to stabilise the vessel but require an additional pump.

They face several days wait for rescue, as three ships making their way towards Sparta are being severely hampered by heavy sea ice.

New Zealand rescue coordinator Chris Wilson said it would take the Air Force Hercules seven hours to reach the Sparta which is about 2,000 nautical miles (3,704 kilometres) southeast of New Zealand.

The boat was in "a safer position" than it was on Friday and the crew who had left the vessel as a precautionary measure were back on board.

"With Sparta now more stable, the vessel is the safest place for them," Wilson said, adding the crew were preparing patches to place over the hole in the hull if they can lighten the vessel enough to correct the list.

Wilson said that, weather permitting, the Hercules would take a pump, pipes and fuel to the Sparta.

"The second pump will provide greater capacity to the crew and will also provide back up in the event one of Spartas pumps fail. Pumps arent designed to work 24/7, so it is important they have that security," she said.

Three rescue vessels -- the Russian-flagged Chiyo Maru No 3, the New Zealand-flagged San Aspiring, and the Norwegian vessel Sel Jevaer were all still some days away from reaching Sparta.

The Chiyo Maru and San Aspiring were were hundreds of nautical miles away and must navigate a circuitous route through the ice while the Sel Jevaer was only 19 nautical miles away, but was hemmed in by ice.

The weather in the area is calm and about three degrees Celsius (37 Fahrenheit).

© 2011 AFP

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