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Russian Fishing Vessel Stranded Near Antarctica, Rescue Ships Still Days Away


(The Blaze/AP) A Russian fishing ship traveling near Antarctica hit underwater ice Friday, tearing a 1-foot hole in the hull, causing it to list at 13 degrees and begin leaking. The 32 man crew has made progress in stabilizing the vessel, but rescue ships are blocked by heavy sea ice and still several days away. Al Jazeera English reports:

A plane dropped supplies of equipment and fuel on ice next to The Sparta Saturday. BBC News reports that the vessel is about 2,000 nautical miles south-east of New Zealand.

Maritime New Zealand, which is coordinating rescue attempts, said Saturday that the crew had pumped water from the vessel overnight and moved cargo around, making the boat safer and more stable.

Crew members who had donned emergency suits and boarded life rafts were now back aboard the Sparta, the agency said. The crew members were making patches that they would attach to the hole in the hull if they can get the ship upright, said Chris Wilson, who was coordinating the rescue mission for Maritime New Zealand on Saturday.

"It's a very remote, unforgiving environment," said Andrew Wright to the Associated Press. Wright is the executive secretary of the Australian-based Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, which has licensed the Sparta to catch toothfish in the Southern Ocean.

The 157-foot-long Sparta sent a distress call early Friday. Maritime New Zealand said heavy ice in the Southern Ocean would make it difficult for other ships to reach the vessel.

The Sparta's sister ship Chiyo Maru No. 3 was heading toward the stricken vessel but had no capacity to cut through sea ice, the agency said. A New Zealand vessel, the San Aspiring, had some ice-cutting ability and was also en route, but was still three to four days away on Saturday. A third vessel was much closer, but was hemmed in by heavy ice and unable to move toward the Sparta.

The crew's emergency immersion suits can keep them alive for a time in freezing water, Maritime New Zealand said.

The crew is made up of 15 Russians, 16 Indonesians and one Ukrainian, the agency said.

The weather in the area was calm Saturday, with temperatures a relatively mild 37 degrees Fahrenheit. According to BBC News, the ice surrounding the ship is estimated to be up to 1.5m thick.

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