A Russian fishing vessel with 32 crew members is in trouble and taking on water near Antarctica, and heavy sea ice is hampering rescue attempts.
The vessel Sparta is listing at 13 degrees next to the Antarctic ice shelf in the Ross Sea, according to Maritime New Zealand. The agency said that the crew, still safe at this point, are throwing cargo overboard to lighten the ship.
The crew has also been pumping water out of the vessel, the agency said.
The Sparta, which is 180ft long, sent a distress call early on Friday. The agency said heavy ice in the Southern Ocean will make it difficult for other ships to reach the Sparta.
The Sparta's sister ship, Chiyo Maru No 3, is 290 nautical miles away and heading towards the vessel but has no capacity to cut through sea ice, the agency said. A New Zealand vessel with some ice-cutting ability is also en route, but is four or five days away. A third vessel is 19 nautical miles away but hemmed in by heavy ice and unable to move toward the Sparta.
Ramon Davis, who is co-ordinating rescue efforts with the agency, said that a C-130 Hercules plane has left McMurdo Station in Antarctica to assess ice conditions in the area to speed up the rescue efforts, but it will not be able to pick up the crew. He added that there are no helicopters in the area and that another vessel remains the most viable option for trying to rescue the crew. "It is possible the crew will have a fairly long wait for rescue," Mr Davis said.
The weather is calm in the area and temperatures are a relatively mild 3C (37F).
The crew is made up of 15 Russians, 16 Indonesians and one Ukrainian, the agency said.
Maritime New Zealand later said some of the crew had boarded lifeboats as a precautionary measure. A spokesman added that the crew has some emergency immersion suits that could keep them alive for a time in freezing water.
The ship apparently has a hole in the hull, said Andrew Wright, executive secretary of the Australian-based Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, which has licensed the Sparta to catch toothfish in the Southern Ocean. Mr Wright said he did not know what caused the hole, although he added that an iceberg "would be a good candidate".