Fishermen rescued after abandoning vessel

 11:05AM Wednesday March 07, 2007

Three crew who abandoned their fishing vessel have been resuced by a container ship.

The Nelson-based vessel was taking on water off New Plymouth's coast prompting the crew to wait in a liferaft to be rescued.

A container vessel, the Alpana was about 25 miles away -- about 1.5hrs from the area -- when a distress signal was issued.

The container ship picked up the crewmen around 11am.

Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ) coordinated the search and rescue operation for the crew of the Walara-K, about 380km off the New Plymouth coast.

RCCNZ was alerted at 4.41am when crew raised the alarm and activated their distress beacon.

Rescue coordination mission controller Neville Blakemore said the 18m vessel, operated out of Nelson and owned by the Tasman Tuna Fishing Company, was taking on water.

A fixed-wing aircraft from Phillips Rescue Trust in Hamilton was initially sent to the area, he said.

A Royal New Zealand Airforce P3 Orion was also in the area to help with the search, he said.

All three crew were spotted floating in a liferaft by the Phillips Rescue Trust fixed-wing aircraft about 8.30am.

Radios were dropped to the crew in the liferaft so they could communicate with the Orion, he said.

The Orion would drop additional life rafts to the crew if required.

A RCCNZ spokeswoman said later that the trio were all well and in good spirits, and were waiting for the Alpana to arrive.

There was no sign of the Walara-K, so rescuers could only assume it had sunk, she said.

Walara-K's sister vessel, Altair III, was on its way to the area to assist and was due to arrive at about 11am, he said. The crew will be transferred there from the Alpana when the Altair III arrives.

Conditions at sea are calm, he said.