[I]A Russian fishing vessel with 32 crew on board has issued a Mayday call from deep in the southern ocean, the Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ) says.
The 55m vessel, Sparta, is next to the ice shelf of Antarctica, east of the Ross Sea, about 2000 nautical miles (3704 kilometres) south east of New Zealand.
Sparta issued a distress call via Inmarsat-C, a satellite communications system, around 3am, which was picked up by the Norwegian rescue coordination centre and passed on to RCCNZ. Initial efforts to contact Sparta directly were unsuccessful.
Around 4.20am Sparta’s sister ship, Chiyo Maru no. 3, relayed a Mayday call to RCCNZ, and confirmed Sparta was taking on water.
RCCNZ has subsequently spoken directly to crew on board Sparta.
RCCNZ search and rescue mission coordinator Tracy Brickles said the crew was pumping water out, but had offloaded non-essential crew onto the ice as a precautionary measure.
Sparta was reported as being on a 13 degree list, or lean.
Ms Brickles said there were no helicopters which could undertake a rescue in the area and the best current option to assist Sparta was identifying a nearby vessel which could come to its aid.
“We have contacted a number of vessels,” Ms Brickles said.
“However, the closest ones are hampered by heavy ice, making vessel movement very difficult. The closest vessel which can cut through the ice is several days away.”
Chiyo Maru no. 3 is about 290 nautical miles away and would take days to reach Sparta.
An American search and rescue team based at the Antarctic research centre at McMurdo Station was preparing a Hercules aircraft to fly over Sparta and assess the ice conditions. The aircraft was being prepared for flight, and would take off later this morning.
The weather in the area currently is calm and about 3 degrees Centigrade. FULL REPORT[/I]