Coroner blames negligence for Korean trawler sinking

WELLINGTON (AFP) - A New Zealand coroner on Friday blamed negligence for the loss of a South Korean fishing trawler that sank near Antarctica in 2010 with the loss of 22 lives.

Coroner Richard McElrea criticised the "poor seamanship" of those in charge of the No.1 Insung and called for compulsory international safety standards for all vessels operating in the Southern Ocean.

"No.1 Insung was lost due to the negligence of the master (captain) and officers of the vessel," McElrea concluded in an inquest report released on Friday.

The Insung was trawling for toothfish when it sank on Dec 13, 2010 in remote waters 1,000 nautical miles north of the McMurdo Antarctic base and 1,500 nautical miles from New Zealand's southern tip.

Nearby trawlers rescued 20 of the 42 people on board and also recovered five bodies, while a further 17 fishermen, including the captain Yu Yeong Seob, were never seen again. The dead were from South Korea, Indonesia, China and Vietnam.

Witnesses at the time said the trawler went down in less than 30 minutes, leading to speculation that it had struck an iceberg.

But McElrea, who held an inquest because the five bodies recovered were taken to New Zealand, said a hole cut in the ship's starboard side to help haul long lines was to blame. He said the "cut away" section should have been sealed when the vessel moved from one fishing spot to another but the captain left it open, allowing three-metre waves to swamp the vessel.

He also listed a range of other failings that contributed to the disaster, including a complete lack of safety training, poorly stowed equipment that made the ship unstable, inadequate watch-keeping and faulty pumps.

McElrea added that the captain failed to order an evacuation and send a distress signal quickly enough, delaying rescue by nearby ships and leaving crew members stranded in freezing waters where experts estimate the survival time is less than an hour.

Antarctic waters are overseen by an international body called the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), which McElrea said needed to work on improved safety standards for vessels plying the treacherous seas.

"New Zealand is concerned to ensure that all vessels in the CCAMLR convention area are properly equipped, are able to withstand the rigours of the Antarctic environment and that vessel safety is promoted (among the crew)," he said.

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