JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — South Korean officials are expected to take over on-scene control of search efforts following the deadly sinking of a fishing vessel in the western Bering Sea last month.
The U.S. Coast Guard has been overseeing the effort with the cutter Alex Haley on site. But with the scheduled arrival of the South Korean vessel Sambong this weekend, the Coast Guard plans to take on a role of search and rescue planning, Rear Adm. Dan Abel, commander of the Coast Guard in Alaska, said on Wednesday.
Abel said two South Korean aircraft will be based out of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage as part of the response. There are daily briefings on the matter, as well.
Moon Duk-ho, consul general for the republic of Korea in Seattle, was scheduled to tour the Coast Guard command center and get an update on the agency's response Wednesday, but his plane was unable to land in Juneau, due to foggy conditions.
Seven people survived the sinking of the Oryong 501, which occurred in Russian waters but was close enough to a boundary line that the Coast Guard was allowed to respond.
Abel said the remains of 27 people have been recovered. Another 26 remain unaccounted for, he said.
Russian officials, according to the Coast Guard, reported that the vessel had been hit by a wave that flooded the boat's storage chambers with seawater.
The Coast Guard was alerted that the vessel had sunk the evening of Nov. 30. After speaking with rescue coordination officials in Russia and South Korea, the Coast Guard deployed its largest search aircraft from Kodiak, about 850 miles from the scene. It arrived at first daylight, Abel said.
Good Samaritan Russian fishing vessels that also responded recovered the survivors, as well as remains, debris and rafts, he said.
Officials are hopeful they might still find survivors, but Abel said with the most optimistic of assumptions — that the person is dry, in a raft and wearing winter clothing like a parka, boots and glove — survivability is about 168 hours. That ended last weekend.
The search area has covered 7,400 square miles, he said.