Three die in fishing vessel fire in Ross Sea
Safe Seas Clean Seas Issue 39, March 2012
It was the second major incident in Antarctic waters in as many months and involved several Korean fishing vessels, a United States research vessel and a United States Air Force (USAF) aircraft.
Jeong Woo 2’s distress call was picked up by another Korean fishing vessel, Hong Jin 707. The information was relayed via the New Zealand vessel Antarctic Chieftain to the Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ) at about 3am on 11 January 2012.
At the time, Jeong Woo 2 was about 3,700 kilometres south-east of New Zealand and 600 kilometres north of McMurdo Station, with a crew of Korean, Vietnamese, Russian and Chinese seamen. The vessel reported that a fire was burning out of control on board and only one viable lifeboat remained. Of the 40 crew, 25 were believed to be in a lifeboat, with 12 on board the vessel and three missing.
Three of the crew still on board were reported to be seriously injured.
“Five vessels responded to the distress call, including the sister ship Jeong Woo 3, which was about 35 minutes away,” says RCCNZ search and rescue coordinator Dave Wilson. The US research vessel Nathaniel B Palmer, with hospital facilities on board, was about 12 hours away.
Different options for rescue were explored, including the possibility of ferrying the crew to the Italian base at Terra Nova Bay and airlifting any injured crew to McMurdo Base.
Jeong Woo 3 and Hong Jin 707 quickly reached the stricken ship and rescued 37 crew, using a crane to transfer three men with burn injuries. Three Vietnamese nationals were confirmed missing, believed to have died in the fire in the vessel’s accommodation block.
Later that evening, Jeong Woo 3 met with Nathaniel B Palmer and transferred seven injured seamen, two of whom had extensive burns.
The remaining seamen stayed on board Jeong Woo 3 and were later transferred to the Korean icebreaker Araon and taken to Lyttelton.
Nathaniel B Palmer ferried the injured men to McMurdo Base, where they were taken by helicopter to the base facilities. A USAF Globemaster flight from Christchurch, scheduled to ferry the men back to New Zealand, did not go ahead because weather conditions at McMurdo prevented landing. Instead, a USAF CF-130 Hercules, already stationed at the base, transported the injured seamen to Christchurch for treatment.
When it left Jeong Woo 2, Nathaniel B Palmer reported that the vessel was still afloat but burning fiercely. Jeong Woo 3 was unable to tow the vessel’s remains to a position north of 60 degrees south for disposal as planned, and the vessel is believed to have sunk.
RCCNZ and MNZ have no involvement in determining the causes of the fire, which will be a matter for Korean maritime authorities.