3 dead in Antarctic fishing boat fire
Wellington - Fire swept through a South Korean fishing ship near Antarctica early on Wednesday, killing three fishermen and leaving two others with severe burns.
Rescue co-ordinators said the outcome could have been worse had it not been for the assistance given by a nearby sister ship and another fishing vessel.
Thirty-seven crew members were rescued, including two unconscious men who had been severely burned and were hoisted off the flaming ship by crane. Five crew members suffered moderate burns.
The ship, the Jung Woo 2, got into trouble in the Ross Sea about 595km north of the US McMurdo Station Antarctic base. It was continuing to burn on Wednesday and appeared to be sinking, said Mike Roberts, the senior search and rescue officer with the Rescue Coordination Centre of New Zealand.
A US research vessel, the Nathaniel B Palmer, was expected to reach the crew on Wednesday evening. Roberts said the US crew will treat the injured seamen, then put them ashore at McMurdo Base for more extensive help and possible evacuation to New Zealand. New Zealand authorities are helping to coordinate the rescue but are not at the scene.
Roberts said the fire appears to have started in the living quarters of the 51m Jung Woo 2 before it quickly spread to the engine room and the ship's fish processing plant. It raged out of control, he said, with the crew's fire fighting teams unable to halt its progress.
The three men who were killed never made it out of their quarters, Roberts said. He said 25 men were able to get onto a liferaft but the fire burned through the ship's other liferaft, forcing 12 men to stay aboard until help arrived.
The sister ship Jung Woo 3 and another Korean vessel, the Hong Jin 707, arrived within about three hours, Roberts said.
"We're pretty fortunate that we were able to get 37 out of 40 to safety," Roberts said. "It was a really catastrophic event."
The two men who were unconscious at the time of the rescue have since regained consciousness, Roberts said, raising hopes they will survive their extensive burns.
Roberts said the cause of the fire remains unknown.
Australian records show the Jung Woo 2 is owned by the Sunwoo Corporation and is licensed to fish for Chilean sea bass, crab and other bottom-dwelling fish. The ship was built in 1985 in Japan and is registered in Busan, South Korea.
The Jung Woo 2 is the second fishing vessel in less than a month to encounter trouble during the Antarctic summer fishing season.
On December 16, the Russian vessel Sparta hit underwater ice that tore a 30cm hole in the hull and left the 32 crew stranded for 10 days, until rescue boats could get to it and make temporary repairs. The Sparta limped into a New Zealand port earlier this week.