Dozens dead as Russian trawler with 130+ aboard sinks in Sea of Okhotsk

Dalniy Vostok freezer trawler, file pictureRT

A rescue operation is underway to save the multinational crew of the Russian freezer trawler “Dalniy Vostok” which has sunk in the Sea of Okhotsk off the Kamchatka Peninsula. At least 54 have been confirmed dead while 63 have survived the catastrophe.

A total of 117 people were lifted from the water, 63 of them are alive, a representative of the Kamchatka division of the Russian Emergencies Ministry told RIA. The survivors who were seriously injured in the shipwreck or who suffered from hypothermia in the freezing waters will be delivered to the clinics of Magadan by helicopter, TASS reports.  

Fifty-four people have been confirmed dead after their bodies were pulled out of the water, according to the latest data, while 15 are still considered to be missing.

Twenty-six vessels are working at the site to rescue the remaining crew members. An MI-8 rescue helicopter with four rescuers and medics on board was also deployed, according to local authorities, to search for survivors. However, the chances of survival in near-freezing waters after more than 20 minutes is nearly impossible, even wearing a wetsuit, rescuers say.

All four rescue rafts seen at the site of the accident have been accounted for and all surviving crew have been brought up. Rescuers suspect that around 20 people on board Dalniy Vostok did not manage to make it to the rafts and sunk with the ship within minutes.

A total of 132 people are believed to have been aboard the ship. According to preliminary data, 78 of the ship’s crew members are Russians while 54 are foreigners. “According to preliminary data, besides Russians the crew included nationals of Burma, Vanuatu, Latvia and Ukraine,” a source from the rescue services told Sputnik

“The rescue mission in the area of the sunken trawler is being led [by] nearby vessels in the area. Their crew is bringing up sailors from Dalniy Vostok from the rafts aboard their ships,” Chief of Maritime Rescue of the seaport of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky Arthur Retz told Interfax.

The local branch of the ministry reported that the trawler sunk in about 15 minutes after its engine compartment had been flooded. According to a TASS emergency source, the ship did not even send a distress signal. According to information from the rescuers, many sailors on board Dalniy Vostok managed to put on rescue vests as the ship sank.

The ‘Granit’ vessel, the captain of which is charged with overseeing the rescue operation, brought on board eight bodies alongside 25 sailors from the sunken ship, Retz said.

Another ship, ‘Ivan Kalinin’ brought up two sailors, one of whom is injured. The ‘Victoria 1’ ship secured 15 sailors in the region while ‘Aleksey Chirikov’ brought up from the waves one body and three sailors.

“The state of emergency became known on Thursday morning,” Retz said.

Shortly after the incident, the head of maritime rescue noted that visibility around the accident site was 24 kilometers, with winds of up to 10 meters per second. The water temperature is around zero degrees Celsius, while the waves were reaching some 1.5 meters in height.

The 103-meter-long and 16-meter-wide autonomous refrigerator trawler ‘Dalniy Vostok’ is designed to process, refrigerate and deliver its catch to the nearest port. Some 110 vessels of this type were built by the ‘Ocean’ factory in the Ukrainian city of Nikolaev between 1974 and 2011.

‘Dalniy Vostok’ was built in 1989 and up until 2014 was been deployed in the Baltic Sea off Riga, Latvia, under the name Stende. Last year, the trawler was acquired by ‘Magellan’ company and moved to Russia’s Far East where the vessel was renamed and assigned to the port of Nevelsk.

An ice collision has been considered as one of the possible causes of the accident, in addition to potential violations of safety procedures on board, a source in the rescue command center told Interfax.

“The main version of what happened considered so far is an extreme impact of ice on the vessel’s hull, that led to deformation, followed by partial destruction of the body,” a source said, noting that the investigation cannot exclude the “possibility” of an excess amount of cargo on board the ship.

A criminal investigation has been opened into the tragedy, primarily examining the possible violation of safety procedures that has led to multiple deaths. Authorities are in the process of interviewing the surviving crew members as well as the owners of the trawler.

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