Antarctic Fishing Vessel Catches Fire Killing Three Crew, Injuring Others

The R/V Nathaniel B Palmer icebreaker. Photo: Wiki Commons

A Korean fishing vessel caught fire early Wednesday morning in the Ross Sea, approximately 2,000 nautical miles southeast of New Zealand, killing three crew members and injuring several others.  The RCCNZ says that as many as 40 crew members were onboard when it caught fire.

The vessel, the 51 meter Jeong Woo 2, sent out a distress call during the early hours of Wednesday morning which was picked up by another Korean fishing vessel in the area and then relayed to officials from the Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ). A number of vessels responded to the call including the two Korean fishing vessels, the Jeong Woo 3 and Hong Jin 707, were able to reach the Jeong Woo 2 and evacuate the crew from the burning vessel.

Three of the crew members were reported missing and presumed dead after the fire tore through the accomodation block of the vessel.  Two others are understood to have suffered extensive burn injuries and another five crew members are also injured with less serious burns, RCCNZ says.

The RCCNZ later confirmed that the injured crew members from the burning vessel had been transferred to the United States research vessel Nathaniel B Palmer, which has medical staff and facilities on board.  The vessel is now sailing to McMurdo Base about 600 kilometers to the southwest.  The trip is expected to take between 24 and 30 hours, depending on ice and weather conditions.

Search and Rescue Mission Coordinator Geoff Lunt said the Nathaniel B Palmer reported on Wednesday evening that the vessel was well alight from bow to stern, but still on an even keel.

It’s been a busy couple weeks for rescue coordinators at RCCNZ.  In December, a fishing vessel with 32 crew began taking on water in the same general area of the Ross Sea and it took 10 days for the rescues to reach the stranded ship due to ice conditions.   Earlier, in 2010, a Korean fishing vessel sank with a crew of 42 while fishing in the Southern Ocean. Only 20 were rescued in that incident.