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Three dead in fire on S Korean fishing vessel

By Peter Shadbolt, CNN
updated 2:05 AM EST, Wed January 11, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Three dead and two seriously injured in shipboard fire
  • 37 crew have been evacuated to rescue ships
  • A U.S. ship is expected to reach the stricken vessel
  • New Zealand rescuers said the fishing ship was sinking

(CNN) -- A U.S. research vessel was expected to reach a stricken South Korean ship near Antarctica on Wednesday evening after a fire raged through the fishing vessel killing three seamen and severely injuring two others.

According to the Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ), the U.S. ship, the Nathaniel B. Palmer -- which is equipped with medical facilities on board -- would treat the injured crew members before putting them ashore at McMurdo Base in Antarctica.

The RCCNZ said the 51-meter Jeong Woo 2 caught fire in the Ross sea about 600 kilometers north of McMurdo Station.

Two other Korean vessels managed to reach the crew after the Jeong Woo 2 issued a distress call early Wednesday and evacuated 37 of the 40 crew, taking the two injured men off the ship with the aid of a shipboard crane. Three crew members are still missing and are believed to have died in the fire in the vessel's accommodation block, the RCCNZ said.

RCCNZ search and rescue mission coordinator Dave Wilson said the fire was reported to be out of control and the ship appeared to be sinking. He said 25 men were able to get onto a liferaft but the fire burned through the ship's other liferaft, forcing 12 men to stay on board until help arrived.

A sister ship , the Jung Woo 3 , and another Korean vessel, the Hong Jin 707, arrived within three hours of the distress call , which was received about 3 a.m. New Zealand time.

The two injured men were unconscious at the time of the rescue but had since regained consciousness, New Zealand authorities said, raising hopes they would survive their injuries.

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