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Rescuers on the Way for Crew of Tilted Ship

Twenty-two were aboard a Tokyo-owned vessel taking on water near the Aleutians.

July 25, 2006|From the Associated Press

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The crew of an Asian ship listing nearly on its side in the North Pacific prepared to abandon the vessel Monday after Coast Guard officials determined it was too dangerous to stay on board.

The Coast Guard and Alaska Air National Guard were sending helicopters and other rescue craft to pick up the 22 crew members of the Cougar Ace, 230 miles from Adak Island in the Aleutians. The crew members all had donned survival suits.

"For their safety, it's best for them to come off the ship," said Coast Guard Lt. Mara Booth-Miller as officials waited for three helicopters to arrive at the remote site. She said it was "very probable" that part of the deck was underwater.

The helicopters were expected to arrive late Monday. National Guard members planned to use hoists to pull the 22 crew members off the ship. Guard members were to determine how many could be flown to Adak in the two National Guard helicopters, giving priority to those with pressing medical needs. The rest were to be transferred to a nearby merchant marine ship.

Earlier Monday, a Coast Guard plane dropped three life rafts, but roiling waters shoved the rafts underneath the dipping port side of the 654-foot ship. Racing against an increasingly tilting ship, rescuers tossed an additional raft along the higher starboard side, but it was a 150-foot drop to the water and beyond their reach.

The Cougar Ace, a Singapore-flagged ship owned by Tokyo-based Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, had been carrying nearly 5,000 cars from Japan to Canada when it began taking on water Sunday night.

"It's sitting on its side, basically," Petty Officer Stephen Harrison said.

Officials said it wasn't clear what had caused the ship to list. Its crew sent out an SOS late Sunday but didn't know where the water was coming in.

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