54 dead after Russian trawler sinks off Kamchatka

The Russian freezer trawler Dalny Vostok with an international crew of 132 sank Thursday morning. Picture: AP

The Russian freezer trawler Dalny Vostok with an international crew of 132 sank Thursday morning. Picture: AP

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A RUSSIAN fishing trawler sank in minutes yesterday 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.

Despite the speed at which ship, the Dalny Vostok, went down, 63 people were rescued, picked up by nearby fishing boats.

Rescued crew members reported that the ship was unstable because of empty fuel tanks and a lack of ballast, and tipped over when a fishing net weighing 80 tons was pulled in, said Oleg Kozhemyako, acting governor of the nearby Sakhalin region.

Kozhemyako’s comments on Russian television came after the federal investigative committee said it was considering all possible causes for the sinking, but it was likely that the trawler hit “an object” floating in the sea, perhaps drifting ice.

The 330ft trawler went down in just 15 minutes after encountering trouble, investigators said.

Those saved had managed to get into lifeboats and some had put on wet suits, rescue workers said.

The Dalny Vostok sank about 4am local time, 6pm GMT on Wednesday, in the Sea of Okhotsk off the Kamchatka Peninsula. It did not send a distress signal before the sinking.

Video of the rescue operation broadcast on state television showed clear skies and relatively calm seas. The water temperature was near freezing.

Among the people on board, 78 were from Russia, 42 from Myanmar and the rest were from Latvia, Ukraine and Vanuatu.

Pyotr Osichansky, president of the Far Eastern Association of Sea Captains, told Russian television that when the trawler last docked in Russia, in January, it had fewer than 70 crew members. The additional crew members were most likely picked up in Pusan, South Korea, and were working illegally, he said.

The Dalny Vostok, which was built in 1989, was equipped to freeze and can fish.

About 26 fishing boats and 1,300 fishermen and emergency workers were taking part in the rescue operation, and scouring the water for survivors and bodies even after darkness fell, emergency situations minister Vladimir Puchkov said.

The fishing boats have recovered 56 bodies. The Interfax news agency quoted a local emergency services representative as saying two of the bodies were found yesterday evening – one in a lifeboat 65 miles away and the other in the water nearby.

A Mi-8 helicopter with rescue workers and doctors was deployed to deliver medical help and transport crew members to hospitals in the city of Magadan. The Russian emergencies ministry also set up a telephone hotline for the families of the crew.

The most likely theory, according to Russian investigators, is that the trawler may have hit some sort of obstacle because of damage near its engine room.

Emergency services suggested that drifting ice may have holed the vessel.

But a senior official in Kamchatka was quoted by Tass news agency as saying the boat foundered while trawling a 100-ton dragnet.

Sergei Khabarov said that safety rules might have been flouted with cargo limits being exceeded.

The 15 people who are still missing are thought to have been in the ship’s hold as the trawler sank.

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