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Crew of stricken Antarctic fishing boat awaits air drop

By David Barber

WELLINGTON, New Zealand—The crew fighting to stop their iceberg-damaged fishing boat from sinking in the Antarctic waited Monday for an air drop of equipment to help them repair a hole in the hull.

Three ships were on the way to help the Russian-flagged Sparta, but one was at a standstill only 22 miles away, stuck in thick pack ice. It will be several days before the others, including an icebreaker, can reach the Sparta.

With 32 crew members, the fishing vessel sent out a distress call Friday, saying it was sinking in the Ross Sea near the Antarctic ice shelf, about 2,300 miles southeast of New Zealand. The boat had struck an underwater iceberg.

The Rescue Coordination Center New Zealand said the crew had pumped out the hold with the help of an extra pump dropped by a Royal New Zealand Air Force plane, after a seven-hour flight Saturday from Christchurch.

But the fishing crew cannot repair the 12-inch, six feet below the waterline, without the equipment that they requested Sunday.

Tthe ship’s agent was obtaining the equipment, which is expected to be delivered by another air force flight over the next couple of days, the New Zealand rescue agency said. The boat, which the crew stabilized by attaching mooring lines to the ice shelf, reported no change to its condition overnight.

The Sparta’s sister ship, Chiyo Maru Number 3, was about 115 miles away, but is expected to take several days to arrive, while the Norwegian ship Seljevaer was only 22 miles away but can’t move in the ice.

The South Korean icebreaker Araon, which left Sunday from New Zealand to join the rescue attempt, was still nearly 1,900 miles and at least six days away.

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