17 are feared dead as a Russian trawler sinks in Barents Sea

Authorities said ice build-up was to blame, but also said a probe would investigate any possible safety violations.

By Maria Kiselyova, Reuters, Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber, Reuters - December 28, 2020
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The Onega was fishing in the eastern Barents Sea near Novaya Zemlya when it capsized, Russian authorities said. (Norman Einstein / CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

MOSCOW — A Russian fishing trawler capsized and sank in the freezing waters of the northern Barents Sea on Monday, with 17 of its 19 crew members feared dead.

The Emergency Situations Ministry attributed the sinking to a heavy build-up of ice on the trawler, which sank off the coast of the Novaya Zemlya archipelago.

It said two crew members had been rescued by another fishing boat in the area and that searches to try to recover the rest of the crew were ongoing.

“Chances of survival in such conditions, even if someone was wearing a wetsuit, are practically zero,” a source familiar with the situation told the Interfax news agency, citing high winds, a storm, and an air temperature of around minus 30 degrees Celsius (minus 22 Fahrenheit).

Ships from Russia’s Northern Fleet were headed to the area to try to look for survivors, Interfax said.

The Investigative Committee, the body that probes major crimes, said it was trying to determine whether the sinking was linked to violations of maritime safety regulations. It said all scenarios were under consideration.

A military plane was sent to the area to support rescue efforts, TASS cited the defense ministry as saying.

Rescue ships are facing temperatures of around minus 20C and waves of around four meters (about 13 feet) high, the Emergency Situations Ministry said.

A port official in the city of Murmansk told the TASS news agency that one crew member had already been found dead in Arctic waters.