19 December 2011, 18:08

Drifting “Sparta” gets stabilized

Drifting “Sparta” gets stabilized
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The Russian crew of Sparta trawler, which is drifting near the coast of Antarctica, has managed to stabilize the boat by mooring alongside a huge ice block. Experts say that now the rescue team should solve two main tasks - to take the crew from the ship and to prevent a fuel spill.

The Russian crew of Sparta trawler, which is drifting near the coast of Antarctica, has managed to stabilize the boat by mooring alongside a huge ice block. Experts say that now the rescue team should solve two main tasks - to take the crew from the ship and to prevent a fuel spill.

The Sparta sent out a distress call on December 15 after it struck a submerged iceberg close to the Antarctic ice shelf and sprang a leak. The ship was sailing in the south-eastern part of the Ross Sea. No wonder that it was ice trapped in that part of Antarctica.  According to the head of the logistic center of the Russian Antarctic expedition at the research institute of the Arctic and Antarctic regions Vyacheslav Martyanov, the boats of this type are not designed for fishing in such conditions:

"The area where Russian fishing vessel has been in distress is one of the most difficult icy zones of Antarctica. Only ice strengthened vessels or icebreakers can sail there. We can only guess how such a small and unfitted vessel came to that area."

The leak below the waterline was so wide that the crew could not pump the coming water fast enough. The ship would have sunken if the second pump had not been delivered on board by air.  By now the ship has stabilized and moored alongside an ice block but it would be better for the team to leave the ship, Martynov says:

"They don’t have rescue boats onboard only rescue rafts. With a zero degree water temperature rafts won’t stay on the float for a long time. The safest option for the crew is to set up a camp on a drifting ice block."

The 32 crew of Sparta comprises 15 Russians, 16 Indonesians and one researcher from Ukraine. For the moment there is no direct threat to their lives but their rescue remains a priority task. At the same time ecologists are beginning to beat an alarm because if Sparta sinks it will have a negative impact for the environment. The ship carries 200 tons of fuel and all this fuel will come into the sea water, Alexei Knishnikov head of the program on the environmental politics in oil and gas sector at the Wildlife Fund says:

"Today we don’t have technical solutions for cleaning fuel spills in icy areas. A recent 110 tons oil spill in Norwegian waters showed how difficult it is to clean oil from ice filled waters. Although the people who worked there had used loads of equipment they managed to pump less than half of the amount that leaked into the sea. Other half spread across the water area or froze into the ice and has been affecting the eco system for many months."

Now two ships have set off to recue the crew of Sparta – Russia’s the Chiyo Maru 3 trawler and the Araon icebreaker which is sailing from New Zealand. Their goal is only take people away from the ship. It is still unclear who will deal with the repair of the troubled vessel.

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