Koreans send aircraft, vessel for Bering Sea search

The U.S. Coast Guard will continue helping look for the crew of a Korean fishing boat that sank in the Bering Sea, although Korean rescuers are increasing their role in the search.

Sixty crewmembers were reported on board the Oryong 501 when it sank about 95 miles off Chukotka’s Cape Navarin on Nov. 30. Seven crew were rescued by nearby Russian fishing vessels and survived the sinking. A total of 27 bodies have been recovered and 26 crewmembers are still missing.

Once the vessel’s emergency beacon was activated, the Coast Guard said they immediately flew C-130 aircraft out of Kodiak and dispatched two cutters to the site in international waters.

“The sympathies of the Coast Guard go out to those impacted by this tragedy,” said Rear Adm. Daniel Abel, head of the Coast Guard’s 17th District. “To the families of those known to have perished, we certainly grieve with them.”

Abel said the cutter Alex Haley will resume the search this week. Two Korean P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft are now flying out of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage, and the South Korean vessel Sambong will arrive on scene Saturday.

Abel says they will also help the Koreans plan the search.

“The minute you see something that an on-scene asset can respond to, then you can shift the search plan,” Abel said. “You may affect it if you confirm that it’s from the vessel that has been lost. So, it’s a very dynamic business. We will continue with the search and rescue planning with more reliance on the South Korean assets.”

Abel said any investigation into the cause of the sinking will be the responsibility of the vessel’s flag state, or South Korea.

The Korean consul general in Seattle was due to appear with Coast Guard officials in Juneau on Wednesday to talk about the sinking and the search, but his flight was diverted to Sitka because of fog.

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