7 Sep 2020

Japan's search for crew of capsized cattle ship still suspended

5:21 pm on 7 September 2020

Japan's coastguard says its search-and-rescue mission for 40 missing crew from a capsized cattle ship in the East China Sea remains suspended, with no timing set for resumption.

Japan Coast Guard Patrol Ship Kudaka conducts a search operation of a Panamanian freighter Gulf Livestock 1 which sent a distress signal off of Amami Oshima in Kagoshima Prefecture on Sep. 3, 2020.

Japan Coast Guard conducts a search operation for Gulf Livestock 1 on 3 September. Photo: AFP

So far, two crew members have been rescued, while another died after being found unconscious on Friday. Their ship, the Gulf Livestock 1, had sent a distress call from the west of Amami Oshima island in southwestern Japan last Wednesday as Typhoon Maysak lashed the area with strong winds and heavy seas.

The search was suspended due to bad weather on Saturday, when Typhoon Haishen was headed towards southwestern Japan.

The ship had been carrying 43 crew members and nearly 6000 cattle after it left Napier's port in New Zealand on 14 August.

The last time Marielle June Chunanon heard from her partner Dante Addug aboard the vessel, he told her he was frightened, and praying for typhoon Maysak to pass.

That message exchange between the Filipino couple was on Tuesday night, as a ferocious storm in the East China Sea battered the 130m ship.

Addug, 34, the ship's captain, sent hours of instant messages to the mother of his four children, typing frantically, telling her the typhoon had intensified and water had caused the engine to fail.

"The typhoon is so strong up to now. Here I am praying for the typhoon to stop," Chunanon, 35, said by phone, recalling his message.

Chunanon learned the ship was missing from a Facebook post by the wife of a crew member.

"My body was trembling that time," she said. "Even if they lose internet connection, he finds a way to message me."

"I'm getting nervous while the time is running out," she said.

Addug boarded the Gulf Livestock 1 in November 2019 and was due home next month to be reunited with his family and meet his four-month-old son for the first time.

"When I kept asking them to pray with me, they asked why, then they saw me crying," she said.

Chunanon said her eldest daughter, 6, saw her watching news about the ship and asked if her father was missing.

"Last night she asked 'has daddy been saved?'"

Liberty Seneres, wife of chief engineer, Aristotle Sabillena, said she received pictures of her husband's cabin with items strewn across the floor, shortly before losing contact.

She urged the coastguard not to give up.

"I am praying he is still safe somewhere," she said. "I asked the lord to give me a sign.

"Keep searching for them. They're alive somewhere."

Captain Addug had earlier sent messages to his partner complaining of a headache and dizziness from powerful waves.

He sent maps of the ship's location in relation to the typhoon.

A few hours later, Chunanon saw his photos of the storm intensifying.

"I'm so worried, hopefully the typhoon will weaken," she wrote.

"It is frightening," he replied.

Soon after, he returned to the ship's command, leaving his phone behind.

Her last message went unanswered.

"Hello my love, I'll sleep now. How are you there? I hope and pray you are safe," she wrote.

Peters tells families of NZers: 'We have done all we can do'

Southland man Lochie Bellerby, who also worked as a herd manager, is one of the missing crew as are two Australian men. Father of two Scott Harris, 37, was the other missing New Zealander.

His mother, Karen Adrian, said the family had not given up hope of finding him alive but time was ticking and she wanted the government to help with the search and rescue efforts.

Scott Harris onboard the Gulf Livestock One.

Photo: Supplied / Karen Adrian

Adrian said it was her son's maiden voyage and she just wanted him found and brought home.

She said she did not understand why New Zealand authorities were not more involved in the rescue operation.

"There are two New Zealanders in the South China Sea, who need help, and we're doing nothing about that. I just think it's appalling.

"I know there's been two typhoons, I know the chances are slim, but there's still a chance."

Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Winston Peters said they were engaging with their Japanese counterparts.

"We've done all we can to talk to the Japanese. The Japanese life and rescue facilities are flat to the boards, and now they've had to pull out because the typhoon is coming back.

"We have done all we can do, and we have spoken to the families."

He said police had contacted the families, and they were being kept constantly up-to-date.

In a statement, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) spokesperson said they acknowledged this was a stressful time for the families involved and they would continue to provide all possible assistance to them.

"They are being updated as soon as information comes to hand. However, there are still many unknown factors in this tragedy, and information is scarce."

They said it was up to the Japan Coast Guard to lead the search and rescue operation.

"They are the experts in this, putting a significant amount of effort into this operation in very difficult conditions, and know the area.

"New Zealand has not been asked to assist in the search operation. We remain in regular contact with the coast guard and will continue to seek up to date information about their search and rescue efforts."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said while she had been given assurances all news was being passed onto the families, that was not happening frequently.

"There is, at this point, very little new information. It has been definitely complicated by the fact that there is another typhoon in the region.

"This is devastating though and I can't imagine what it would be like as a family member to have so little information from such distance because of the weather patterns."

- Reuters / RNZ

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