Russian Schooner Sinks in Storm

Two Russian boats and a jet scoured the country’s stormy far east seas Friday in a desperate search for at least 11 fishermen whose schooner sank off Sakhalin Island.

The vessel’s captain sent a last-minute distress signal suggesting that the crew had been unable to deploy their life rafts in time, and officials reported no progress in their initial bid to locate the craft.

“Attention, attention: whoever can hear me,” the federal fisheries agency quoted the last message from the Partner schooner as saying.

“Partner – suffering distress,” said the ship’s captain.

“We are going under. Only one of the life rafts deployed, and even that one did not do so correctly.”

Two Russian transport boats and an An-24 jet were sent on a search and rescue mission that was being staged amid unusually fierce storms that have seen gusts of up to 105 kilometres per hour.

But Interfax reported that at least one of the ships and the jet had given up their search and would only resume their work at sunrise on Saturday.

Initial Russian reports said the schooner had a crew of 14 and that the craft was owned by a small firm registered in Belize.

The accident was only the latest to affect Russian fishing vessels this winter.

Three more craft with more than 400 people on board became stranded in the Sea of Okhotsk on December 30 in a high-seas drama that dominated television news.

The Admiral Makarov icebreaker was only able to reach the first of the three vessels on Thursday, and was not expected to return to the two remaining larger ships until the weekend.

The Sea of Okhotsk – an arm of the Pacific stretching between the Kamchatka Peninsula and Sakhalin Island – is a fishing mecca that turns dangerous for much of the winter season as the region becomes whipped by daily storms.

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