Tuesday, December 27, 2011
An icebreaker vessel has reached a leaking Russian boat with 32 crew members aboard off the coast of Antarctica, New Zealand officials said. The South Korean polar research vessel reached the 48-meter boat, called Sparta, in Ross Sea, according to a statement from Maritime New Zealand. On Tuesday, the Rescue Coordination Centre of New Zealand said "very good progress" was being made to repair the damaged shell plating on Sparta, which sustained a 30-centimeter (1-foot) hole in the side more than a week ago. The Sparta issued a distress call on December 16. A cement box will be secured to the inside of the shell plating, which will make the vessel seaworthy, according to Search and Rescue Mission Coordinator Mike Roberts. "For safety reasons, it is not possible to access the exterior damage in Sparta's current location," Roberts said. Roberts said crew from both ships will attempt to weld a "doubler plate" on the external plating of the ship and another plate inside.Officials said the South Korean vessel, called Araon, is expected to stay with the Sparta during repairs before escorting the Sparta to an ice-free area of open ocean. Both vessels are expected to leave their current location at midnight New Zealand time on Wednesday, the statement said. Roberts said the Araon began transferring fuel from the Sparta to change the Sparta's alignment in an attempt to elevate the damaged area from the water. The affected part was 1.5 (4.9 feet) meters below sea before the fuel transfer, officials said. By Tuesday, a second hole was discovered in the Sparta, "but this has only caused localized flooding in a small, contained space in this area," Roberts said. "It should not affect her making safe passage. This second hole can also not be repaired at her current location."