MOSCOW (Russia) – A Russian fishing trawler sank in minutes early Thursday in the icy waters off Russia’s Far East coast, killing at least 56 of the 132 people on board, rescue workers and investigators said.
At least 13 others were missing hours after the Dalniy Vostok fishing vessel sank in the Sea of Okhotsk ff the Kamchatka Peninsula so quickly that its captain, who drowned, did not manage to send a distress signal.
Of those, 117 have been accounted for, according to TASS. Around 10 of the survivors are in a critical condition, suffering from hypothermia.
The head of the Russian Emergencies Ministry, Vladimir Puchkov, says the rescue mission to try and find survivors from the Dalniy Vostok should continue through the night.
“We will continue the rescue operation in the area where the trawler went down when night falls at full capacity,” said Puchkov, according to Interfax.
He added that 26 vessels are currently at the scene and helping with the rescue operation. Strong winds have hampered the rescue mission, with helicopters unable to reach the area where the vessel sank. One chopper took off from Petropavlovsk Kamchatka, but was forced to return to the city of Magadan.
Thirty-two people have been transferred to the Andromeda vessel from the Dalniy Vostok trawler.
“Fishing boats are currently lining up around the Andromeda to transfer those rescued from the sea, which includes both survivors and those who have passed away,” a source told TASS.
Of the 132 crew members aboard the Dalniy Vostok, 78 are Russians and 54 are other nationals, including from Myanmar, Vanuatu, Latvia and Ukraine.
While the search maybe continuing, the Chief of Maritime Rescue from the port of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, Artur Rets, said he believed it was unlikely any more survivors would be found.
“To keep oneself alive in water where the temperature is around two degrees above freezing is impossible. There is the possibility that crew members stayed below deck and went down with the trawler,” he added, speaking to TASS.
It was not immediately clear why the 26-year-old ship had sunk but a local official said the crew may have violated safety rules by overloading it, affecting its balance.
One of the reasons the trawler sunk was that its net was overloaded, the Sakhalin Governor Oleg Kozhemyako said.
“They had empty tanks, and the ballast wasn’t pumped in. The trawl [net] was about 80 tons in weight, and that was what caused the imbalance. The balance was zero and negative. And then the vessel started to overturn, causing it to sink,” the governor told Rossiya-24 TV channel.
The 103-meter-long and 16-meter-wide freezer trawler was designed to process, refrigerate and deliver its catch to the nearest port.
The Dalniy Vostok was built in 1989 and up until last year, had been deployed in the Baltic Sea. At the end of 2014, it underwent a full maintenance check, and was found to be in good condition and fit for sea, according to the ship’s owner, who added that technical problems were unlikely to have caused the accident.