Sat, Apr 14, 2007 - Page 4 News List

US chopper rescues aid workers from stricken fishing boat

AP , HONIARA, SOLOMON ISLANDS

A US Navy helicopter lifted 20 aid workers off a stricken Taiwanese fishing vessel that had hit a reef while carrying out relief work for tsunami victims in the Solomon Islands, a Taiwanese official said yesterday.

The accident came as the Solomon Islands declared April 23 a national day of mourning for the 43 people killed when an 8.1 magnitude earthquake triggered a tsunami that crashed through coastal villages earlier this month.

The Taiwanese vessel had been returning to the western town of Gizo after delivering aid supplies to outlying islands when it struck a reef, Taiwan's Ambassador to the Solomon Islands, George Chan (詹秀穎), said.

"The US helicopter helped us to lift the Red Cross workers and our medical team [off the ship] to ... Gizo," Chan said. "I was told they were safely evacuated."

Thirteen Red Cross workers from New Zealand and the Solomons as well as four medical workers from Taiwan were among those lifted off the ship, along with two medical patients and an injured member of crew, he said. The remaining 13 crew members remained on the grounded vessel.

The helicopter was from the US Navy supply ship USS Frederick W. Stockton that is assisting with tsunami relief.

Solomons police said the stricken vessel was taking on water as waves crashed over its stern and there were fears it could founder.

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