At least 56 dead as Russian trawler with 132 aboard sinks in Sea of Okhotsk

A rescue mission to find survivors from the Dalniy Vostok fishing trawler, which sank in the Sea of Okhotsk off the Kamchatka Peninsula, will continue through the night. Fifty-six people are confirmed dead, while 63 were rescued from the freezing waters.

One hundred and thirty-two people were confirmed to have been aboard the fishing vessel, when it sank. Of those, 119 have been accounted for, according to RIA-Novosti. Around 10 of the survivors are in a critical condition, suffering from hypothermia.

The head of the Russian Emergencies Ministry, Vladimir Puchkov, says the rescue mission to try and find survivors from the Dalniy Vostok should continue through the night.

“We will continue the rescue operation in the area where the trawler went down when night falls at full capacity,” said Puchkov, according to Interfax.

He added that 26 vessels are currently at the scene and helping with the rescue operation. Strong winds have hampered the rescue mission, with helicopters unable to reach the area where the vessel sank. One chopper took off from Petropavlovsk Kamchatka, but was forced to return to the city of Magadan.

Thirty-two people have been transferred to the Andromeda vessel from the Dalniy Vostok trawler.

“Fishing boats are currently lining up around the Andromeda to transfer those rescued from the sea, which includes both survivors and those who have passed away,” a source told TASS.

Of the 132 crew members aboard the Dalniy Vostok, 78 are Russians and 54 are other nationals, including from Myanmar, Vanuatu, Latvia and Ukraine.

While the search maybe continuing, the Chief of Maritime Rescue from the port of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, Artur Rets, said he believed it was unlikely any more survivors would be found.

“To keep oneself alive in water where the temperature is around two degrees above freezing is impossible. There is the possibility that crew members stayed below deck and went down with the trawler,” he added, speaking to TASS.

Rets added that a flooded engine caused the trawler to sink and it was submerged after just 15 minutes. Sources said that the vessel did not even send out a distress signal. However, rescuers said a number of crew members still had time to put on life jackets before the ship sank.

One of the reasons the trawler sunk was that its net was overloaded, the Sakhalin Governor Oleg Kozhemyako said.

“They had empty tanks, and the ballast wasn’t pumped in. The trawl [net] was about 80 tons in weight, and that was what caused the imbalance. The balance was zero and negative. And then the vessel started to overturn, causing it to sink,” the governor told Rossiya-24 TV channel.

The 103-meter-long and 16-meter-wide freezer trawler was designed to process, refrigerate and deliver its catch to the nearest port.

The Dalniy Vostok was built in 1989 and up until last year, had been deployed in the Baltic Sea. At the end of 2014, it underwent a full maintenance check, and was found to be in good condition and fit for sea, according to the ship’s owner, who added that technical problems were unlikely to have caused the accident.

One theory being investigated is that the trawler collided with ice in the Sea of Okhotsk, while a source involved in the rescue mission said that safety procedures could have been violated on board the ship.

“The main theory concerning what happened is that a large body of ice shattered the vessel’s hull, sinking it,” a source said, adding that there was also the possibility that it had been carrying too much cargo.

A criminal investigation is primarily examining possible violations of safety procedures aboard the vessel that led to multiple deaths. Authorities are in the process of interviewing the surviving crew members, as well as the owners of the trawler.