New Zealand’s maritime authority, Maritime New Zealand, has just issued a frightening report coming from a fishing vessel with 32 crew that is stranded and taking on water deep in the Southern Ocean, next to the ice shelf of Antarctica.  Read below for the full alert from Maritime New Zealand.

16 December 2011 – 8AM

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

This is quite possiby the worst place on earth for a situation like this to occur, let’s hope rescue crews can reach the vessel soon.  We’ll keep an eye on this story and update as things develop.

UPDATE: Here are the highlights of the RCCNZ update on the situation as of 10am local time.

  • Two fishing vessels are making their way towards the stricken Russian boat Sparta, but are not expected to reach the area for four to five days.
  • All of the crew, made up of 15 Russians, 16 Indonesians and 1 Ukrainian, are understood to be safe. The crew is pumping water out of the holds and discharging cargo onto the ice to lighten the ship.
  • RCCNZ search and rescue mission coordinator Ramon Davis said RCCNZ had contacted a number of vessels operating in the southern ocean, but heavy sea ice was making vessel movement difficult.
  • Sparta’s sister ship, Chiyo Maru no. 3, is making its way towards the stricken vessel. However, Chiyo Maru no. 3 is about 290 nautical miles (NM) away and has no ice classification, meaning no capacity to cut or break through sea ice.
  • The New Zealand vessel San Aspiring, which has some capacity to move through ice, is also making its way towards Sparta. San Aspiring is currently 470 NM from Sparta and at its current speed is expected to reach the vessel in 4-5 days.
  • A third vessel is only 19 NM away, but is hemmed in by heavy ice and unable to proceed towards Sparta.
  • “We have confirmed the crew has immersion suits on board and other resources which will assist them to survive if they have to abandon the ship.” [-Ramon Davis of RCCNZ]
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