At least 4 Dead, 20 Rescued, 17 Missing After Ship Sinks Off Antarctic

A South Korean fishing vessel sank Monday in frigid ocean waters about 1,000 nautical miles north of McMurdo Station in Antarctica, killing at least four people, while at least 20 were rescued, according to maritime officials. A time-sensitive search was underway for another 17 people who were missing, said Maritime New Zealand spokesman Ross Henderson. While the ship sank in the Southern Hemisphere's late spring, water temperatures are just 2 degrees Celsius (35.6 degrees Fahrenheit), meaning crew members likely could only survive no more than 10 minutes before succumbing to hypothermia, authorities said. There were differing numbers on the size and fate of the crew. The New Zealand federal agency, which focuses on ocean-based search, rescue, safety and environmental matters, said that five people had died, 20 were rescued and 17 were missing.

(CNN)

Former U.S. Air Force missile-tracking ship Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg sinks beneath the surface of the ocean after cutting charges were detonated seven miles off Key West, Florida in this May 27, 2009 file photo. Now, a year later, the ship is serving its purpose as an artificial reef in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. It has become a habitat for 113 different species of fish and has attracted more than 20,000 divers during its first year. Picture taken May 27, 2009.

A South Korean fishing vessel sank Monday in frigid ocean waters about 1,000 nautical miles north of McMurdo Station in Antarctica, killing at least four people, while at least 20 were rescued, according to maritime officials.

A time-sensitive search was underway for another 17 people who were missing, said Maritime New Zealand spokesman Ross Henderson. While the ship sank in the Southern Hemisphere's late spring, water temperatures are just 2 degrees Celsius (35.6 degrees Fahrenheit), meaning crew members likely could only survive no more than 10 minutes before succumbing to hypothermia, authorities said.

There were differing numbers on the size and fate of the crew.

The New Zealand federal agency, which focuses on ocean-based search, rescue, safety and environmental matters, said that five people had died, 20 were rescued and 17 were missing.

But Ham Un-Shik, a spokesman with the Busan Coast Guard in South Korea, said four people were dead, 21 had been rescued, and 18 were still missing.

A South Korean naval ship, the Cheonan, sinks as a coast guard vessel sails near the ship in an attempt to rescue its sailors near South Korea's Baeknyeong Island, close to North Korea, in the western waters on Saturday, March 27, 2010. Word that a South Korean naval ship sank in the tense waters around the disputed maritime border with communist North Korea set off panic: The president convened an emergency meeting and the military dispatched a fleet of ships.

The 58-meter (190-foot) fishing trawler, the No. 1 Insung, left on November 2 from South Korea to fish in Antarctic waters, said Ham. It had 11 Indonesians, 11 Vietnamese, eight Koreans, eight Chinese, three Filipinos and one Russian on board, he said.

The ship sank about 6:30 a.m. (12:30 p.m. ET Sunday) in a remote swatch of the Antarctic Ocean some 1850 kilometers (1150 miles) north of McMurdo, a U.S. research center on the tip of Ross Island, according to Henderson. Maritime New Zealand learned of the incident around 1 p.m., some four-and-a-half hours later.

There was no emergency radio call before the incident, and it is still not clear what happened, Henderson said.

Two New Zealand fishing vessels nearby were at the scene, with three South Korean trawlers closing in to lend assistance, Henderson said from Wellington, New Zealand. Authorities called on all other nearby ships likewise to go to the area to help.

South Korean naval ship "Busan" (bottom) fires its guns to sink an unmanned retired fishing vessel as part of a demonstration during a ceremony marking the 60th anniversary of the outbreak of the 1950-53 Korean War, off the coast of Busan June 25, 2010. North Korea has issued a no-sail warning off the west coast of the Korean Peninsula in what South Korean officials said on Friday was likely part of routine military drills, amid heightened antagonism between the rivals.

The seas in the area were relatively calm, with 1 meter (about 3 feet) high swells and a light westerly wind, added Henderson