Efforts to find 17 crewmen missing at sea after the sinking of a Korean fishing vessel in the Southern Ocean yesterday has been suspended, the Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand, RCCNZ, says.
Twenty survivors and five deceased were recovered from the water after the Korean-owned and operated No. 1 Insung sank at 6.30am yesterday about 1,000 nautical miles north of McMurdo base, inside New Zealand’s search and rescue region.
The vessel is a 58 metre long-liner with crew from Korea, China, Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines and Russia. It was fishing for Patagonia Toothfish, also known as Chilean Sea Bass.
The fishing vessel No. 707 Hongjin, owned by the same company as No. 1 Insung, Insung Corporation, was only three nautical miles from the stricken vessel at the time of the sinking and was able to respond immediately yesterday. All 20 survivors are on board No. 707 Hongjin and reported to be in a comfortable condition. None requires medical treatment.
No. 707 Hongjin, along with two other Korean fishing vessels – from a different fishing company – continued searching overnight for the men, after two New Zealand fishing vessels were released from the search yesterday afternoon.
RCCNZ search and rescue mission coordinator Dave Wilson said given that around 30 hours had elapsed since the vessel sank, there was no reasonable expectation that any further survivors would be found. The search had therefore been suspended.
Mr Wilson said it was understood No. 707 Hongjin would remain in the search area until it was joined by two other vessels from the same fleet – understood to be at least a day’s sailing away. The other two Korean vessels had now left the search area.
“Unfortunately the Southern Ocean is an extremely unforgiving environment,” Mr Wilson said.
“With the sea temperatures around 2 degrees Celsius, survival times for crew members in the water would be very short. The medical advice is that those who did not suffer cardiac arrest on entering the water would likely be unconscious after one hour, and unable to be resuscitated after two hours. We understand the vessel sank very quickly and the crew had to abandon ship without time to put on adequate emergency gear.
“Sadly, it is exceedingly unlikely that anyone not picked up yesterday could have survived.”
Mr Wilson said RCCNZ had been liaising with the various foreign embassies involved to ensure the families of the crew were kept informed.
RCCNZ was advised of the sinking about 1pm yesterday by the Ministry of Fisheries, which was alerted by the vessel owner’s New Zealand agent.
Weather conditions were mild yesterday but have deteriorated today, with the search effort being hampered by blizzard and fog.
It is not known at this stage what caused the vessel to sink.