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Friday March 24, 2000

Canada Navy helicopter rescues 7 from sunken ship

HALIFAX, Nova Scotia, Canada ( Reuters ) - Canadian Navy helicopters pulled seven survivors from the sea late on Thursday after a cargo ship sank with 31 crew members aboard in the Atlantic Ocean about 575 miles (500 nautical miles) (920 km) southeast of Nova Scotia, authorities said.

Navy Lt. Pat Jessup said the survivors were found in Navy life rafts that were dropped earlier from a Canadian military aircraft and a U.S. Coast Guard plane. She said they were likely in the water until the rafts were dropped.
No details were known about the fate of the other 24 crew members.
``Six are on one (helicopter), one on the other. The helicopters are still at the scene but they will be leaving shortly to pick up some more fuel and then they will return to the scene,'' Jessup told Reuters from Halifax.
The 760-foot (230-metre) cargo ship Leader L sunk earlier on Thursday and the two planes spotted two life rafts, although it was not known how many people were in them, Jessup said.
Jessup said the aircraft had radio contact with some survivors until their batteries gave out.
The two Canadian search-and-rescue helicopters were on the site after taking off from a Canadian Navy frigate that was part of a task force in the area of the Atlantic when the cargo ship began sinking, Jessup said.
The Panamanian-registered bulk cargo ship, on its way to New York from Spain with a load of salt, sank hours after it issued a distress call when a 50-foot (15-metre) steel plate broke off the hull, and the vessel began taking on water, said officials at the Rescue Coordination Center in Halifax.
Three Canadian frigates, one destroyer and a supply ship with hospital equipment heading to a training mission in Puerto Rico diverted course and headed to the sunken ship, but were not expected to reach the scene until early on Friday, Jessup said. A Liberian-registered bulk carrier called Knock Stocks was in the area and had been asked to join the rescue effort.
``The rules of the sea are that anybody can be commandeered ... to participate in a rescue,'' she said.
The Navy frigates Toronto and Charlottetown were expected to reach the site at 2:30 AST (0700 GMT) on Friday.
The area of the Atlantic where the ship sank -- 460 miles (740 km) or 400 nautical miles northeast of Bermuda -- is normally covered by U.S. rescue crews, but Canadian forces are in charge of the rescue effort because their ships happened to be closest to the scene.
Jessup said the effort was being coordinated by Norfolk, Virginia, Search and Rescue. ``But because our task force happens to be in the area, we are very much involved in this,'' she added.
She said the water was very warm, but waves were high at 13 to 17 feet (4 to 5 metres) and it was dark.
It was not immediately clear what caused the steel plate to break from the hull.