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Korean icebreaker Araon leads Russia trawler Sparta to clear water

December 29, 2011, 14:25 UTC+3

On December 16, the trawler that collided with an iceberg got a hole 30 centimetres in diameter below the waterline

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VLADIVOSTOK, December 29 (Itar-Tass) — The Korean icebreaker Araon in the Ross Sea on Thursday led the Russian trawler Sparta from the ice to clear waters. “The icebreaker has moved away from the trawler, the Sparta goes adrift and the crew is coming to its senses and conducts a full examination of the ship,” Andrei Polomar, Director General of the Vladivostok-based fishing company Antei, to the fleet of which the Sparta belongs, told Itar-Tass.

On December 16, the trawler that collided with an iceberg got a hole 30 centimetres in diameter below the waterline, and water poured into the vessel. The Sparta tilted 13 degrees to its side, there was a threat to the life of the crew comprising 15 Russians, 16 Indonesians and one Ukrainian. Some of the crewmembers evacuated to lifeboats, but the remaining fishermen on board managed to patch the hole and avert the threat of the trawler’s sinking.

In the next few days the military transport planes C-130 Hercules of the Air Force of New Zealand twice flew to help the Sparta. They dropped pumps and other equipment for the ship’s damage control and sealing the holes. The crew of the trawler managed to put the vessel on an even keel using pumps to pump out water uninterruptedly.

When the Araon arrived, the hole was patched with a strong steel sheet, the Russian and Korean welders securely welded it to the hull of the distressed vessel. This operation was preceded by the transfer of fuel from the Sparta to the icebreaker. The trawler became more buoyant, rose above the sea surface, and the water was pumped out. On Thursday, the Korean icebreaker completed the rescue of the Russian vessel by leading it through a large ice field to a clean, calm water area.

The RV Araon is a large icebreaker operated by the Government of South Korea. The vessel was commissioned in 2009. She supplies the King Sejong Station, and will supply the Jang Bogo Station, South Korea's second planned Antarctic research station. She underwent her sea trials in January 2010, in the Ross Sea. Her first foreign port of call was Lyttelton, New Zealand. The first location her crew investigated, for a South Korean Antarctic base, in the Cape Burks area, was not deemed suitable, and she then investigated the selected site in Terra Nova Bay.

Before hitting an iceberg the trawler in the Ross Sea was engaged in catching toothfish - a valuable species. The Sparta is currently located approximately 3.7 thousand kilometres southeast of New Zealand. There have been no reports so far on the trawler’s further plans.

The homeport of the Sparta vessel is Sovgavan in the Khabarovsk Territory. The vessel was built in 1988, its length is 55 metres, displacement 846 tonnes, unrestricted navigation, sea endurance - 50 days.

The crew of the Russian trawler Sparta, which was stranded in the ice on the Ross Sea near the coast of Antarctica, applauded as the Korean icebreaker Araon appeared on Christmas Day to rescue them after 10 days stuck in the ice.

At around 4:50 p.m. on Sunday, the Araon reached the distressed 500-tonne fishing vessel, which had crashed into a 900-m iceberg some 3,704 km off the coast of New Zealand, tearing a 200-cm hole in its hull. The accident caused the Sparta to lean 10 degrees but fortunately it did not sink after tilting sideways. When the Araon came within 200 m of the Russian trawler, it dispatched four engineers aboard rubber boats to retrieve the fishermen, the South Korean Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported.

The Sparta had become stranded while fishing on the Ross Sea at 11 a.m. on December 15. Some of its crew attempted to escape on rubber boats as the sea water filled up the ship's hull, but to no avail.

Several days after it was reported stranded, a New Zealand Air Force cargo plane dropped off food and a pump to keep the crew well-nourished and ensure they could empty the sea water from the ship to stay afloat. But their problems were far from over. They were too far from the coast, and the deteriorating weather conditions made it impossible for spare parts to be delivered, so they were unable to repair the ship.

With the ship's fate in the balance, ecologist Alexei Knishkikov expressed concern for local marine wildlife, should any of the Sparta’s 200 tonnes of light fuel oil leak into the sea. Biologist David Ainley criticised New Zealand’s system of fishing permits that allowed “underpowered, single-hulled boats” to operate in the area. Pack ice meant nearby vessels such as the Norwegian Seljevaer and the Sparta's Russian sister-ship Chiyo Maru 3 were unable to come to Sparta’s aid. The crew of the Sparta, made up of 16 Indonesians, 15 Russians and a Ukrainian researcher, had to wait until 26 December 2011 when the South Korean icebreaker RV Araon arrived. One of the Araon’s first tasks was to pump fuel into the raised side of the Sparta, thus lifting the damaged side to the air.

The crew contacted the Russian Foreign Ministry, which appealed for help to the Araon, as it was anchored in Christchurch, New Zealand, around 3,700 km away. The Araon left port on December 18 and found the Sparta seven days later at a point in the Ross Sea 60 km away from the original scene of the accident, when they began the rescue mission. The head of the Korean rescue team said of the ongoing mission, “We are inspecting the ship to see whether it can be repaired. If the team concludes that it is beyond help, we will take the crew back to safety.”

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