UPDATE 11:05 p.m. EDT: The death toll in the sinking of the Dalniy Vostok has increased to 54, according to Russia's RIA Novosti, which cites emergency rescue and recovery sources heading the response. At least 63 survivors were rescued, but many were suffering hypothermia and were airlifted to a hospital about 150 miles away. That leaves 15 of the total 132 crew members onboard the Dalniy Vostok unnaccounted for, but feared dead, as it is nearly impossible to survive in the freezing waters of the Sea of Okhotsk.
At least 43 people are dead after a freezer trawler they were on sunk off the coast of Russia’s eastern Kamchatka peninsula in the Sea of Okhotsk on Thursday local time. Another 63 of the 132 total passengers were rescued by Russian maritime services and local fishing vessels, while 26 remain missing. The nature of the wreck has not been determined.
The nationalities of the deceased has not been released, but 78 people on board the “Dalniy Vostok” were Russian, while the other 54 were Ukrainian, Lithuanian, Burmese and Vanautuan, according to ITAR-TASS. The Russian news agencies quoted the regional emergencies minister saying that drifting ice could have punched a hole in the trawler, causing its sinking.
Russia’s emergency services dispatched rescue helicopters and vessels to recover those stranded in the freezing waters and 20 miles per hour winds. Survivors were airlifted to medical facilities in Magadan, about 186 miles from where the ship went down. The Dalniy Vostok reportedly sank just 15 minutes after its engine compartment flooded, giving the crew no time to send a distress signal, according to RT.
A freezer trawler is a type of factory ship that processes fish for the market. Workers gut and cut fish to the specifications of the markets to which they sell. The video below shows the extremely rough conditions these vessels often operate in around the Sea of Okhotsk, which is abundant with Golden King Crab and more than 340 varieties of fish, making it a premier commercial fishing territory for Russia. The Sea of Okhotsk has around 7 billion tons of cod, 2.5 million tons of herring and in total makes up 43 percent of all biological resources in the northern Pacific ocean, according to the United Nations Environment Program. Russia has claim to much of the Okhotsk and has largely disallowed foreign commercial vessels to fish there.