Dozens dead after Russian trawler sinks

Apr 02, 2015, 6:44 AM EDT
Kamchatka Peninsula.
AFP/Getty Images

At least 54 crew on a Russian fishing trawler died and 15 were missing after it sank in freezing waters off the Kamchatka Peninsula in the Western Pacific Ocean late on Wednesday, officials in the area said.

Sixty-three of the 132 people on board the Dalniy Vostok were rescued with the sea's temperature near zero degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit), Viktor Klepikov, coordinating captain of the Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky maritime rescue coordination center, told Reuters.

"The rescue operation is going on, we are still looking for 15 people," Klepikov said. "At this time we do not know what might have caused the tragedy."

Russia's TASS news agency cited a deputy head of the Kamchatka region as saying the crew might have violated safety rules by exceeding the capacity of cargo storage. "According to preliminary information, the shipwreck occurred while hauling a 100-tonne fishing seine," TASS cited Sergei Khabarov as saying.

The Russian Interfax news agency cited an unidentified source at the region's rescue center as saying that large amounts of drifting ice might have damaged the body of the ship, which sank within 15 minutes.

Russia has a dismal air, road and water safety record, with negligence and corruption often the cause of accidents. In 2011, an aging, overcrowded tourist boat sank in Russia's Volga River, killing nearly 130 people in one of the worst post-Soviet ship disasters.

The trawler was carrying 78 Russian nationals, as well as 54 foreign nationals from Myanmar, Ukraine, Lithuania, and Vanuatu. It sank in the Sea of Okhotsk, 330 km (205 miles) west of Krutogorovsky settlement in the Kamchatka region and 250 km (155 miles) south of the city of Magadan.

A captain of one of the 26 rescue ships taking part in the search said weather conditions were poor when the trawler went down, with snow, wind and waves of up to three metres (10ft) high. The water temperature was around freezing (32F). A spokesman said survival in such waters was possible for up to 20 minutes, reports the BBC.

Water flooded the engine compartment and the trawler then sank within 15 minutes, a local branch of the Russian Emergencies Ministry said.

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-tonne dragnet.

Sergei Khabarov said that safety rules might have been flouted with cargo limits being exceeded. The ship did not send out a distress call before sinking, according to local media.

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