Stricken Sparta sets sail for Lyttelton

RAY LILLEY
Last updated 13:47 28/12/2011
The Sparta
USAF
STRANDED: The Russian fishing boat Sparta was stranded next to the Antarctic ice shelf in the Ross Sea.

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The stricken Russian ship Sparta, in danger of sinking in frigid Antarctica waters for 12 days, has begun a voyage through 160 kilometres of sea ice, bound for Lyttelton.

A 30-centimetre hole was torn in the ship's hull when it hit underwater ice on December 16.

Heavy ice in the Ross Sea prevented help from reaching the stricken vessel for 10 days, forcing the crew to pump out near-frozen seawater to keep the ship afloat while awaiting rescue.

At one point, some of the crew boarded liferafts.

The crew comprises 15 Russians, 16 Indonesians and one Ukrainian.

The South Korean icebreaker Araon finally arrived on Monday, and repairs to the hole were completed this morning, the New Zealand's Rescue Co-ordination Centre (RCCNZ) said.

The Araon began escorting the Sparta through the ice and toward the open ocean.

Both ships were expected to clear the ice pack within 12 hours, RCCNZ spokesman Chris Henshaw said.

''The inside [of the hull hole] has been all fixed up. They used a cement box to fill it in,'' Henshaw told Radio New Zealand.

A cement box provided a temporary fix to the torn steel plating to make the vessel seaworthy.

The crew had not been able to weld a steel plate over the hole because of safety concerns, he said.

The Araon, a polar research ship, would guide the Sparta to ice-free open ocean about 160km away, where it would be joined by its sister ship for the 3700km journey to Lyttelton.

It would dry-dock there for permanent repairs, Henshaw said. 

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- AP

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