Concerns Mount for Missing Fishing Trawler Off Antarctica, Search Suspended

File photo of a P3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft. Photo courtesy Commonwealth of Australia
File photo of a P3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft. Photo courtesy Commonwealth of Australia

A search has been suspended for a unidentified fishing vessel whose EPIRB was set off over the weekend in the Southern Indian Ocean a few hundred miles from Antarctica.

Early on Sunday March 30, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority detected an emergency beacon signal set off in the Southern Indian Ocean about 2,000 miles southwest of Perth, or about 400 miles north of the Antarctic mainland.

It is understood that the beacon is registered to a 75-meter fishing support vessel with an unknown number of crew.

Involved in the search over the weekend were a civil jet and Royal Australian Air Force P3 Orion aircraft re-tasked from the search for MH370. A broadcast was also been issued to shipping, although it is not believed any ships are in the area. As of Monday night Australian time, the search for the missing vessel has been suspended.

The AMSA statement said that the vessel has not been located, but debris was seen in the location of the beacon signal, causing “grave concerns” over the fate of the crew.

Due to discrepancies in the ships records AMSA has been unable to establish an owner, flag state, or what the vessel’s purpose was in this area. Indications are the vessel may have been involved in illegal fishing activities.

Weather in the area over the past 24 hours has included swells of up to seven meters, winds of up to 70km/h, air temperature of -17 degrees Celsius and water temperatures between zero and two degree Celcius. The responding aircraft also reported icebergs in the area Sunday.

An update late Monday Australian time, AMSA’s Rescue Coordination Centre said it has determined that either a considerable amount of deck equipment including the EPIRB had been swept overboard in rough weather, or the vessel foundered and all crew entered the water at around the time the emergency beacon was detected.

Safety experts have determined that if it was the latter, even under the best circumstances, namely the crew abandoning ship into a dry life raft, there is no prospect of survival.