The Patagonian toothfish, better known on Western restaurant menus as Chilean sea bass, is in high demand. Living in the colder waters of the southern oceans, including Antarctica’s Ross Sea, fishing for the toothfish can be hazardous. Within the last 30 days, 25 sailors on fishing vessels in the Ross Sea have died. On December 13th, the Korean fishing boat, No.1 In Sung, sank in the Ross Sea with a loss of 22 dead or missing. 20 sailors survived and were picked up by other fishing vessels. The ship sank in light winds and a relatively mild 3-foot swell. The cause of the sinking has not been determined.
Three days later, the Russian fishing vessel Sparta was holed by sea ice and came perilously close to sinking off the Ross ice shelf. In addition to the damage to the ship, it became trapped in ice and was ultimately had to be rescued by the Korean icebreaker Araon. The Sparta was able to make temporary repairs and there was no loss of life.
At 3AM Wednesday, New Zealand time, a fire broke out on the Korean fishing vessel, Jung Woo 2, in the Ross Sea off Antarctica, killing three and seriously injuring two others. 37 sailors were rescued from the burning ship. which reportedly continues to burn and appears to be sinking.
Licenses, issued by the CCAMLR (Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources) are required to fish in Antarctic waters. All three of the stricken fishing vessels were licensed. Nevertheless, after the near sinking of the Sparta, the deputy head of the Russian Antarctic expedition at the research institute of the Arctic and Antarctic regions, declared that the Russian fishing vessel was not suitable for operations in Antarctic ice.
Given the alarming body count, it may be appropriate for the CCAMLR to reevaluate the ships licensed for fishing in the dangerous waters off Antarctica.