The search for 17 people missing after a Korean fishing vessel sank in the Southern Ocean early today has been scaled down as it becomes increasingly unlikely further survivors will be found.
Five people have died, twenty survivors rescued and a further 17 are unaccounted for after the sinking of the No.1 In Sung at 6.30am this morning, about 1000 nautical miles (1850km) north of McMurdo base - or 2,700km south east of Bluff - inside New Zealand's search and rescue region.
Two New Zealand fishing boats - Antarctic Chieftain and the Janus - that were helping in the search were stood down at 4.30pm but three Korean boats continue to look for survivors, says the Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ).
The RCCNZ was advised at about 1pm today of the sinking of the Korean-owned and operated No.1 In Sung, a 58 metre long-liner. The 20 survivors and five deceased are on board the fishing vessel No. 707 Hongjin.
It is not known at this stage what caused the vessel to sink or why no distress communication was received prior to it sinking, says RCCNZ.
Information received by RCCNZ from the rescue vessel and the fishing company states that the ship sunk very quickly and those who were able to abandon did so directly into the water - not wearing life jackets or immersion suits.
Weather conditions in the area consist of light westerly 10 knots and a one metre swell. Sea temperature is 2C. Survival times in the water are about 10 minutes without lifejackets or immersion suits, says RCCNZ.
RCCNZ search and rescue controller Dave Wilson said the centre discussed response options with the New Zealand Air Force and the United States Antarctic Program. The RNZAF had an Orion aircraft stationed in Christchurch, and the US has Hercules aircraft at McMurdo Station.
"Unfortunately, given the short survival times in water of those temperatures and the length of time it would take for the Orion and Hercules aircraft to reach the search area, it was not a viable option," said Mr Wilson.
He said the New Zealand vessels had been released from the search as it was becoming increasingly unlikely further survivors would be found.
RCCNZ is liaising with the various foreign embassies to ensure the families of the crew were kept informed.
A coastguard spokesman in the southern South Korean port of Busan, where the ship is based, told AFP there were eight Koreans, eight Chinese, 11 Indonesians, 11 Vietnamese, three Filipinos and one Russian on board.
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- NZ Herald staff