International search in the Bering
Posted by PA2 Diana Honings, Friday, December 19, 2014
The Bering Sea, a deep water basin that stretches between eastern Russia and the western coast of Alaska, is notorious for taking the lives of many mariners who dare to traverse this part of the world, and tragically, it has recently taken yet another crew.
The South Korean-flagged 326-foot fishing vessel 501 Oryong, consisting of 60 crewmembers from several countries including Indonesia, Philippines, South Korea and Russia, had left South Korea on July 10 to catch pollock, a winter delicacy in South Korea, according to company officials.
“Earning a living on the ocean is a dangerous occupation,” said Capt. Charles Cashin III, chief of staff, Coast Guard 17th District. “Commercial fishing in the Bering is generally considered the most dangerous. While dramatic improvements in weather prediction, communications, safety and fishing regulations have all reduced the risk, the fact remains the Bering Sea is known for having winter weather among the most severe on the planet. Coupled with the largest remaining bio-mass on earth, the attraction can be overpowering.”
It was this attraction that led the 501 Oryong to the Bering Sea where on the evening of Nov. 30, 2014, off the coast of the Chukotka in northeast Russia, the crew was hauling its catch when, according to South Korean government officials and the ship’s owners, the vessel was hit with a wave that flooded the boat’s storage chambers with seawater sinking the vessel 109 miles from the nearest point of land.Coast Guard 17th District command center watchstanders in Juneau, Alaska, were alerted by the 501 Oryong’s emergency locator beacon and immediately contacted the Russian Rescue Coordination Center in Vladivostok, since the vessel was in their search and rescue region.
With extensive communication between the South Korean Mission Coordination Center and Russian RCC, the Coast Guard learned that a good Samaritan had managed to pull seven survivors from a life raft and one deceased crewmember from the water 3 miles from the sunken vessel. The remaining crew is believed to have jumped into the sea with life jackets on.
“Strict compliance with Safety of Life at Sea requirements, frequent training of the crew and a healthy respect for the environment are critical,” said Cashin. “The fact the 501 Oryong had an operational emergency locator beacon and that the international community came together and adopted a common search and rescue alerting system is likely the reason we have seven survivors.”
The Coast Guard launched a C-130 Hercules airplane crew out of Air Station Kodiak for a first light search traversing 850 miles to the scene the next morning.
Coast Guard Cutter Alex Haley and Coast Guard Cutter Munro, with Coast Guard Air Station MH-65 Dolphin helicopters embarked, were diverted from their current missions to assist in the search as well as several Russian good Samaritans.
On Sunday, Dec. 7, two South Korean Navy P-3 maritime search aircraft crews assumed the fixed wing aviation lead, being based out of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage, Alaska. The Coast Guard sent two search and rescue planners to help plan their search efforts, brief the crews and debrief upon return.
The search continued, and on Saturday, Dec. 13, the South Korean Government Vessel Sambong joined the search. On Monday, the Republic of Korea relieved the Coast Guard in the search.The response was a community effort with actions by the Russian SAR Mission Coordinator, international good Samaritans, the Coast Guard, South Korean government and the U.S. Air Force with a host of Korean P-3s. Though the search was turned over to the South Korean assets, the Coast Guard continues to assist with search and rescue planning using robust ocean models.
Ultimately, after more than 24 Coast Guard searches covering more than 4,576 square miles, only seven survivors were located, 27 crewmembers were recovered deceased by the good Samaritans and 26 remain missing.
“The sympathies of the Coast Guard go out to those impacted by this tragic maritime loss,” said Commander of Coast Guard forces in Alaska Rear Adm. Dan Abel. “To the families of those known to have perished, we grieve with you. For the families of those who still remain unaccounted, not knowing the fate of a loved one is often more difficult than a sad but definitive conclusion.