The Ross Sea in the Antarctic brings to mind visions of icebergs, penguins, seals and whales. Yet, increasingly, the Ross Sea – with its harsh environment of sub-zero temperatures and iceberg-riddled waters – is being visited by fishing vessels from around the world. Unfortunately, many of these vessels are not equipped for the harsh polar conditions, as evidenced by the two serious accidents in the last month, which follow another tragic accident in 2011 in which 21 people were killed.

The first accident involved the Sparta, a Russian-flagged vessel that was not ice-strengthened, hitting ice on December 18. The ice ripped a hole in the ship’s hull that caused her to take on water, and required the Royal New Zealand Air Force to drop repair supplies to the crew by plane. Rescue efforts were hampered by heavy sea ice, with help only coming seven days later by the South Korean icebreaker Araon. Fortunately, the entire crew survived the ordeal.

The second accident was more tragic. On January 11, 2012, the Korean fishing vessel Jeong Woo 2 experienced a fire on board. Three crew members died, and several others were injured. Other Korean fishing vessels nearby rescued most of the crew, and the U.S. research vessel Nathaniel B. Palmer took those needing medical treatment to McMurdo Station. All of the injured have now been airlifted to New Zealand, and three remain in serious condition.

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