Russia reaches first stranded fishermen

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A Russian icebreaker tore through a blinding winter storm Thursday to reach the first group of fishermen that have been trapped in icy seas off Russia's Far East coast since December 30.

The Admiral Makarov icebreaker reached the first of the three Sea of Okhotsk vessels with more than 400 people on board after fighting through "heavy snow, zero visibility, snow-covered ice" and other difficulties, news reports said.

The icebreaker was in the process of tugging the first fishing vessel -- Professor Kizivetter -- to ice-free waters and then planning to return for the other two craft, the Interfax news agency reported.

The dramatic rescue took several days longer than expected because one of the icebreakers involved in the operation became stuck itself and another had to make a brief detour to rescue two more ships that ran into trouble this week.

The Sea of Okhotsk -- an arm of the Pacific stretching between the Kamchatka Peninsula and the Sakhalin Islands -- is a fishing mecca that turns dangerous for much of the winter season as the region becomes whipped by daily storms.

Russian news reports said the three vessels went out to sea despite bad weather warnings being posted throughout the region.

The ships' progress has dominated Russian news since the weekend, with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin at one stage personally talking to one of the captains after inviting news crews to film the event.

Russian news reports have said that the fishermen had sufficient food and water supplies, and no problems on board the vessels were reported Thursday.

"There is no immediate threat to the stranded ships," the transportation ministry official said.

© 2011 AFP

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