19 Aug 2010

Missing trawler crew presumed drowned

6:55 am on 19 August 2010

A search has been called off for three crewmen missing after a Korean trawler capsized and sank off the coast of the South Island.

The Oyang 70 was carrying 51 crew when it suddenly sank about 740km east of Dunedin early on Wednesday.

The Rescue Coordination Centre centre received an alert from the trawler at 4.40am, followed shortly after by a mayday call from the same position and relayed by fishing vessel Almaltal Atlantis reporting that it had gone down.

Forty-five crew from Indonesia, Korea, the Philippines and China were rescued from life rafts and the bodies of three Indonesian men have also been recovered.

The Korean captain and two Indonesian nationals are presumed drowned.

The centre's mission coordinator, Mike Roberts, told Radio New Zealand News the decision to stop the search on Wednesday night was difficult, but the chances of the men surviving were nil.

Mr Roberts says it is believed the men were in a sixth life raft which went down with the trawler. It is understood they were not wearing immersion suits and the water temperature was about 7°C, meaning they would have survived only about three hours.

Trawler sank within 10 minutes

Mr Roberts says sea conditions were calm at the time and it does not appear the weather was a factor in the sinking.

"We understand that she was hauling or recovering her fishing gear, with fish in the net, and she suddenly capsized and sank within 10 minutes."

A Royal New Zealand Air Force Orion was sent to scour the area but the search was called off after about six hours. Spokesperson Squadron Leader Kavae Tamariki says visibility was poor due to low cloud, but the plane covered the entire search area.

Tony Hazlett of Talley's Group, which charters the Almaltal Atlantis, says the rescued crew and bodies are on the ship, which is returning to New Zealand on Wednesday afternoon.

Mr Hazlett says the survivors are as well as can be expected and no one requires medical care. He expects the vessel to arrive at the Port of Lyttelton on Friday morning.

An investigation is underway, with preliminary inquiries being carried out by the Transport Accident Investigation Commission on behalf of its Korean counterpart.

Trawler was in good condition - lawyer

Nelson lawyer Mike Sullivan represents the ship's owners, Oyang Corporation of Korea and the Christchurch company that chartered it, Southern Storm Fishing.

Mr Sullivan says he understands the Oyang 70 was in good condition, is in full survey, is regularly dry-docked for maintenance and is under Safe Ship Management.

Hyun Choi from Southern Storm Fishing told Radio New Zealand News the company had chartered the vessel for more than 10 years and that the ship had come to the Southern Ocean once a year.

The Maritime Union says at 38 years, the Oyang 70 was one of the oldest fishing vessels in New Zealand waters.

Consulates informed

Representatives of the Korean and Indonesian consulates have visited the Rescue Coordination Centre and received briefings on the situation.

An official with the Indonesian embassy in Wellington says consular staff were alerted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and are in constant contact with the rescue centre.

Maria Renata says embassy officials are trying to contact the families of the 36 crew members who are dead or missing.