Saturday 26 February 2011

Hope fades for survivors of expedition yacht Berserk, lost in Ross Sea

by JANE HAMMOND, The West Australian

Sea Shepherd leader Paul Watson says there is little hope of finding any survivors from a Norwegian expedition yacht missing off Antarctica after the vessel's empty life raft was discovered floating in the icy waters of the Ross Sea this morning.

The life raft was the second found in as many days by the Sea Shepherd vessel Steve Irwin, called in to help in the search for the 14m yacht Berserk.

The first life raft discovered on Thursday morning was thought to belong to a New Zealand naval vessel also looking for the missing yacht.

The description of the life raft found this morning matches that of the one belonging to Berserk. It was recovered half full of water, encrusted with ice and with a torn canopy.

Stormy weather has plagued the area in recent days hampering the search effort and threatening any chance of finding the three missing crew members of the Berserk, alive.

Capt Watson said the position of the raft was around 70km north of the position where a distress signal was issued by the Berserk on Wednesday evening and was consistent with the drift and wind.

"The Sea Shepherd crew has been conducting the search on a very disciplined grid for over 24 hours. The crew is confident that if the yacht Berserk were still afloat it would not have drifted as far north as the life raft, and would have been discovered," Capt Watson said.

"All indications are that the Berserk has sunk and that it sank very quickly.

"The conditions at the time were extremely high winds, extremely low temperatures, very heavy seas, and numerous and very dangerous growlers."

Capt Watson said it was likely the three crewmen had been lost at sea and recovering their bodies would be very unlikely.

"In my opinion, the conditions at the time of the distress call presented some very serious threats to such a small vessel. Considering that the distress signal was automatically sent and the lifeboat appears to have been released after the vessel was submerged, my opinion, and I hope I am wrong, is that the Berserk sank rapidly at the point where the distress signal was first detected in a depth of about 500 metres and a distance some six miles (9.6km) off shore.

"Considering the extreme conditions it is unlikely, but not impossible that any of the crew were able to leave the vessel before it was lost. Unfortunately we have seen no evidence of survivors."

The Steve Irwin is helping in the search for crew members from the yacht Berserk, which disappeared while on a polar expedition on Wednesday evening.

Two of the five crew members of the Berserk have been located in Antarctica, while the rest remain missing.

The two-man exploration party consisting of Jarle Andhøy, Berserk’s captain, and passenger 18-year-old Samuel Massie, was discovered about 160km inland bound for Ross Island on Thursday.

They were due to meet the remaining crew, two Norwegians and a British national, at Shackleton's Hut on Ross Island.

The New Zealand Navy vessel Wellington and Heritage Expedition’s ‘Professor Kromov’ (Spirit of Enderby) is also searching for survivors.

The Steve Irwin was on its way back to Hobart after a successful campaign to save more than 700 whales from being harpooned by Japanese whalers when it received the call to assist in the search.

The 14m, steel-hulled yacht offered berths to expeditioners as it sailed around the world.

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