Hercules to drop aid to damaged fishing boat in Ross Sea

An air force plane will make a mercy dash to Antarctica from Christchurch this morning to offer aid to a stricken Russian fishing vessel.

The C130 Hercules planned to drop pumps, fuel and equipment to the Russian fishing boat Sparta, stranded next to the Antarctic ice shelf in the Ross Sea, about 2000 nautical miles (3704 kilometres) southeast of New Zealand, which falls within the country's Antarctic claim.

The Rescue Co-ordination Centre said the hull of the 48-metre Sparta had a 30-centimetre hole about 1.5 metres below the waterline and was listing 13 degrees.

Its captain issued a distress call at around 3am yesterday.

Rescue centre spokesman Ross Henderson said some crew remained on board and had managed to keep up with the water inflow. A temporary tarpaulin patch over the hole had slowed the leak.The rest of its 32 crew were on life rafts alongside the ship as a precaution.

The Hercules was due to fly at 10am from Christchurch to McMurdo Station, the United States' Antarctic base near the ice shelf.

After the seven-hour flight, it would refuel before flying to drop aid to the Sparta.

The move was deemed necessary because all three vessels sailing to its aid were facing difficulties over sea ice in the area, Henderson said.

-Fairfax NZ