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Air Force makes successful drop to stricken vessel

Published: 5:58AM Saturday December 17, 2011 Source: ONE News

A Royal New Zealand Air Force plane has dropped a pump, fuel and other equipment to the Russian fishing vessel stranded in Antarctica's Ross Sea.

The Sparta, with 32 men onboard, is trapped in pack ice, with a hole in the hull beneath the waterline.

Maritime New Zealand says that the Sparta's crew have stopped the ingress of water into the holds.

They will be using the equipment dropped by the RNZAF to continue making repairs to the hull.

The RNZAF C130 Hercules departed Christchurch at 11am today and reached the Sparta before 7pm.

It completed the equipment drop and is now flying to the Pegasus Airstrip near McMurdo Station.

The crew of the Hercules will spend the night at McMurdo before making their way home to New Zealand tomorrow.

Nearby vessels are proceeding towards the ship, and are expected to take several days to reach the vessel.

Meanwhile the Sparta's owner has commissioned a South Korean icebreaker to go to its assistance. The icebreaker Araon will leave New Zealand tonight and is expected to take about eight days to reach Sparta.

Second pump to provide security

The ship issued a mayday call at 3am yesterday. The 55 metre vessel is located near the ice shelf of Antarctica, 3704 km south east of New Zealand in the Ross Sea, and has taken on water.

The ship is reported to have a list of around 13 degrees and is pumping the water out and in no immediate danger of sinking.

The New Zealand Rescue Co-ordination Centre (RCCNZ) search and rescue mission coordinator Chris Wilson said crew had been pumping water from the hold overnight and moving cargo around the boat to stabilise it.

"They've made good progress - the vessel is certainly in a safer position than it was yesterday," Wilson said.

"The crew which left the vessel yesterday as a precautionary measure are now back on board, which is good. With Sparta now more stable, the vessel is the safest place for them."

"The second pump will provide greater capacity to the crew and will also provide back up in the event one of Sparta's pumps fail.

"Pumps aren't designed to work 24/7, so it is important they have that security."

RCCNZ search and rescue mission coordinator Ramon Davis said the 32 crew attached a tarpaulin to the outside of the vessel yesterday, which helped slow the flow of water into the hold.

The Sparta has been in Antarctic waters gathering the Patagonian toothfish.

The ship has 32 crew on board, 15 Russians, 16 Indonesians and a Ukrainian, and all are understood to be safe. They are said to have special clothing and other resources to cope with Antarctica's extreme weather.

"They have plenty of supplies - there's water, there's plenty of food, plenty of special clothing and a full set of emergency equipment," the ship's agent Andrey Kulish told ONE News by phone yesterday.