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Sparta crew doing fine

Published: 5:18AM Monday December 19, 2011 Source: ONE News

Crew on stricken fishing vessel Sparta are coping well despite help still being several days away.

The Russian ship's agent Andrey Kulish says the crew is doing great and thinks they are equipped to last on the ship for "several months".

Increasing winds mean help is still days away for the Russian fishing vessel stranded near Antarctica.

The Sparta issued a mayday call at 3am Friday from near the ice shelf, 3704 kilometres southeast of New Zealand in the Ross Sea.

The 48-metre vessel, with 32 men on board, had hit ice and put a 30 centimetre hole in the hull, 1.5 metres below the water line.

There has been no change to Sparta's condition and crew are continuing to manage the vessel's water ingress using two pumps. The vessel was taking on water and listing 13 degrees and crew have requested more equipment to help repair damage.

The three ships in the vicinity of the stranded vessel have been hampered by heavy sea ice. The New Zealand vessel San Aspiring pulled out on Saturday after its crew determined the more than 470 nautical mile (NM) journey was too dangerous. The Norwegian vessel Seljevaer is hemmed in by ice and unable to proceed and Sparta's sister ship, Chiyo Maru no. 3 is slowly making its way towards the stricken vessel.

The icebreaker Araon has left New Zealand and is expected to take about eight days to reach Sparta.

The ship is pumping the water out and is in no immediate danger of sinking. Maritime New Zealand said they have managed to stop the ingress of water into the holds.

A Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) plane dropped an extra pump, fuel and other equipment to the Russian fishing vessel yesterday, after a seven-hour flight from Christchurch.

"They are keeping ahead of the water ingress using two pumps," said RNZAF rescue mission co-ordinator Neville Blakemore.

"But they are having difficulty in trying to fix a patch to the damaged part of the hull because they need to stop one of the pumps to do this, and then the water level creeps up again."

Blakemore said Sparta's stability was currently the number one priority for the rescue operation. He said keeping the crew on board Sparta is their best chance of survival.

"The crew has manoeuvred the vessel alongside the ice shelf and attached mooring lines to the ice. They have also deployed their liferafts which are alongside Sparta.

Blakemore said the ship's agent was sourcing extra equipment needed and RCCNZ would co-ordinate its delivery.