SANTIAGO, Chile — A Chilean military tugboat was heading to Antarctica on Thursday to prevent an environmental disaster by retrieving a Chinese fishing ship that caught fire and began to drift dangerously near sharp glaciers.
The Kai Xin vessel burned off the coast of Antarctica Wednesday. Its 97 crew members were rescued by the Juvel, a Norwegian ship, about 34 miles (55 kilometers) from Chile’s Bernardo O’Higgins research base near the Antarctic peninsula.
The Kai Xin is now unmanned, and a navy tugboat left port in Punta Arenas, near the southern tip of South America to tow the ship to harbor..
“The ship has been drifting in zigzags and circles at about 5 knots per hour. It’s very close to glaciers and we’ve sent the tugboat in case it hits the coast causing an oil spill,” said Capt. Juan Villegas, maritime governor for Chile’s portion of Antarctica.
The Kai Xin left port in Uruguay and Chilean officials don’t know how much fuel it’s carrying. Fog forced Chile’s air force to cancel a flight on Thursday to check on the ship’s condition.
“The ship seems in good conditions from the photos we’ve seen,” Villegas told The Associated Press. “The fire seems to have taken place at the engines and there’s no risk of sinking.”
China’s Panamanian-flagged ship Skyfrost also was nearing the area to help tow the ship, he said.
The environmental group Greenpeace has said that the Chinese ship is part of an international fleet of about 50 vessels authorized by the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources to fish off the Antarctic coast.
Greenpeace said the ship has authorization to fish for krill.
China’s krill market is growing due to strong demand for its use in fishmeal as well as medical and dietary products.
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