More than 50 people remain missing a day after a South Korean fishing vessel sank in the Bering Sea off the coast of Russia’s Chukotka region as severe weather conditions hampered a rescue operation, officials said yesterday.
Eight people — a Russian official, a South Korean crew member, three Filipinos and three Indonesians — have been pulled from the water, although the South Korean later died of hypothermia, officials in Seoul said.
US rescue helicopters joined the search operation for several hours, but failed to make headway, South Korean Prime Minister Chung Hong-won told a meeting of government officials.
Seoul and Sajo Industries, the vessel’s operator, said there were 60 people on board, including 11 South Koreans, 13 Filipinos and 35 Indonesians.
Artur Rets, the head of the maritime rescue service in Russia’s Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky port, on Monday said records showed that 62 people were on board.
“When the fish were being hauled in, the vessel was hit by a wave,” Rets said, adding that the Oriong-501 had sunk.
A South Korean Fisheries and Oceans Ministry official said it is believed that the ship, which was catching pollock, began to list after stormy weather caused seawater to flood its storage areas.
At the time of the sinking, the waves were more than 4m high and the water colder than minus-10oC, a Sajo official said.
Rescuers have recovered four empty lifeboats from the 36-year-old vessel, a Russian official said, as hope faded of finding the missing in the icy cold waters.
“Four torn lifeboats were found,” said Oleg Karev, also of the marine rescue center in the port.
The Sajo official, who did not want to be named, said the ship had eight lifeboats and that the seven fishermen who survived and the person later found dead used one of them to escape. The captain of the ship had issued an escape order and it was believed that the rest of the crew also attempted to escape, he said.
Rescuers also saw one dead body floating in the area, but were not able to recover it due to storm conditions, he said.
South Korean officials expressed fear of a huge death toll.
Authorities in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky said the surviving rescued fishermen were well and would be taken to South Korea once the weather improves.
Kim said the ship left for the Bering Sea from Busan, South Korea, on July 10 to catch pollock, a winter delicacy in South Korea.
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