(CNN) — A South Korean fishing vessel sank Monday in frigid ocean waters about 1,000 nautical miles north of McMurdo Station in Antarctica, killing at least 5 people while at least 20 were rescued, according to maritime officials.
A time-sensitive search was underway for another 17 people who were missing, said Maritime New Zealand spokesman Ross Henderson. While the ship sank in the Southern Hemisphere’s late spring, water temperatures are just 2 degrees Celsius (35.6 degrees Fahrenheit), meaning crew members likely could only survive no more than 10 minutes before succumbing to hypothermia, authorities said.
The New Zealand agency and the Korea Coast Guard said that five people had died, 20 were rescued and 17 were missing.
“Indications from the rescue vessel and also the company was that all the survivors went into the water without life jackets, without immersion suits, so we’re looking at a maximum survival time of about 10 minutes in 2-degree waters,” Maritime New Zealand Rescue Coordinator Dave Wilson told CNN affiliate TVNZ on Monday. “By the time the aircraft were going to be on scene it was probably about eight or nine hours after the affect.”
The 58-meter (190-foot) fishing trawler, the No. 1 Insung, left on November 2 from South Korea to fish in Antarctic waters, said Ham. It had 11 Indonesians, 11 Vietnamese, eight Koreans, eight Chinese, three Filipinos and one Russian on board, he said.
The ship sank about 6:30 a.m. (12:30 p.m. ET Sunday) in a remote swatch of the Antarctic Ocean some 1,850 km (1,150 miles) north of McMurdo, a U.S. research center on the tip of Ross Island, according to Henderson. Maritime New Zealand learned of the incident around 1 p.m., some 4 1/2 hours later.
There was no emergency radio call before the incident, and it is still not clear what happened, Henderson said.
Two New Zealand fishing vessels nearby were at the scene, with three South Korean trawlers closing in to lend assistance, Henderson said from Wellington, New Zealand. Authorities called on all other nearby ships likewise to go to the area to help.
The seas in the area were relatively calm, with one meter (about three feet) high swells and a light westerly wind, added Henderson