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Struggling Sparta in icy Antarctic waters

It could be four to five days before rescue vessels reach distressed Russian fishing boat trapped in dense ice off Antarctica with 32 crew members on board.

The Russian-flagged vessel Sparta began taking on water after hitting an iceberg 3,700 kilometers off New Zealand. It sent out a distress call and has evacuated some of the crew in life-rafts on Antarctic ice.The rest of the crew are now making an effort to patch the hole 1.5 meters below the waterline, New Zealand rescue authorities say on Friday. It has been covered with tarred canvass to stop leakage. But the boat is listing 13 degrees and water is still seeping in.The crew is trying to pump the water from the holds and has asked New Zealand rescuers for more pumps. The rescuers say if the crew gets rid of the water from the holds it could lighten the boat sufficiently for the hole to be above the water line and allow the crew to repair it. In an attempt to lighten the vessel, the crew earlier jettisoned some cargo.There are now helicopters in the area to evacuate the crew. New Zealand rescue center coordinator Tracy Brickles was quoted as saying the ships capable of breaking through sea ice to reach the Sparta are four or five days away. Reports suggest that a third ship was sent to the scene but became trapped in the ice.Meanwhile the US has sent a plane from one of its polar stations, McMurdo research base, to assess ice conditions. The pilots say the boat is now in an ice-free area, but an ice blanket in nearby waters is up to 1.5 meters thick.Among the 32-member crew are 15 Russians, 16 Indonesians and 1 Ukrainian.

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