May 4, 2006

Bulk carrier sinks off S.Africa, 27 missing

By James Macharia

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Rescue teams searched on Thursday
for 27 crew members missing after a bulk carrier ferrying iron
ore from Brazil to China sank in rough seas off South Africa's
eastern coast.

Six of the ship's 33 crew were rescued unharmed on
Wednesday night shortly after the vessel, identified as the
Alexandros T, went down off Port Alfred after taking on water
in strong winds, rescue officials said.

"From what we understand, it started to list to one side
and started to break up in half before sinking," Paul Killeen,
deputy sea rescue commander at nearby Port Elizabeth, told
Reuters by telephone.

"One crew member was rescued from the sea, and five others
from a life raft, the rest of the crew have not been seen. The
missing 27 crew were all wearing life jackets," he said.

A spokesman for the ship's owners said most of the crew
members were Filipino.

A South African military plane was scrambled to the scene
of the sinking, 285 miles offshore, to join nearby ships in the
rescue effort. A Canadian rescue helicopter in the vicinity was
placed on alert.

Killeen said a military airplane was currently circling the
area where the ship went down to help coordinate the ongoing
rescue operation. The aircraft had spotted life rafts in the
sea and was directing the rescue ships toward them, he said.

"I believe there is a good chance we will find some of them
if not all alive," Killeen said.


Mark Hellenberg, a rescue coordinator with the Maritime
Rescue Coordination Center, said the Alexandros T had sent a
distress signal at around 9 p.m. local time (1900 GMT).

A nearby ship, the Fortune Express, was directed to the
scene by maritime officials and found the Alexandros T. sinking
fast, but managed to rescue the six crew.

"The rest of the crew appear to have been forced into the
sea," Hellenberg said. "None of the six survivors are reported
to be injured."

There were strong winds when the ship sank at about 10 p.m
(2000 GMT) on Wednesday night, Killeen said.

The Greek-owned 91,164 gross-tonnage vessel was built in
1989 and is registered under the management of Overseas Marine
Enterprises Inc in Saint Vincent & The Grenadines, according to
Norway-based independent maritime consulting foundation DNV.

The Alexandros T was ferrying 155,000 metric tonnes of iron
ore loaded in Brazil and destined for China, a spokesman for
the ship's managers said.

The iron ore was loaded at Ponta da Madeira, Brazil, and
the ship set sail on April 14 headed to China, spokesman
Nicholas Brown said in a statement.

(Additional reporting by Gordon Bell)