Fished from the sea. . .a fleet of Chinese fishing boats rescues 28 crewmen as

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 July, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 July, 1994, 12:00am

A CHINESE fishing fleet picked up 28 sailors from a sinking Russian ship yesterday, as Hong Kong rescue services scoured the seas for the vessel which kept radio contact only with its home port.

The Government Flying Service (GFS), the Royal Navy and RAF searched in vain throughout the morning for the Konstantin Zankov.

Eventually, a Chinese ship found her abandoned in mainland waters more than 100 miles east of the first position given to the Hong Kong Marine Department by the Vladivostok Coastguard.

All 28 crew on the iron-ore carrier had been pulled to safety by passing mainland fishing boats. The listing hulk was towed to Shantou.

The 6,592-tonne ship had been heading from Hong Kong to South Korea with a load of ore from China when stormy seas shifted the cargo, causing it to almost capsize.

The Marine Department has urged all ships within its search and rescue responsibility area - 800 nautical miles into the South China Sea - to call Hong Kong in times of distress.

''We were relying on ultimately second-hand information, and there's no doubt things could have been more efficient had we been able to speak directly with the ship,'' one senior Marine Department official said.

''We don't know why people speak only with their owners or home bases, but we still have to mount the rescue no matter what.'' The department's Rescue Co-ordination Centre sent five GFS and RAF helicopters out between 3 am and 5 am on getting a message from counterparts in Vladivostok that a ship was in distress about 60 miles east of Hong Kong.

Just as the aircraft headed for home to refuel at about dawn after a fruitless search, a new location was given putting it a further 100 miles east - out of helicopter range.

As a Royal Navy patrol boat and a GFS Super King Air spotter plane raced to the scene, word finally came about 9 am that the rescue was under control and in the hands of the Chinese.

The RAF sent two Wessex helicopters following a call from the GFS shortly before 5 am.

Flight Commander Jon Dowdswell said they spent about 30 to 40 minutes searching with two GFS Sikorsky S76s and a Black Hawk, which had arrived an hour before.

''Although the visibility was good all we saw was fishing boats.''