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Sunday, December 13, 2009

6 sailors saved as Israel-bound ship sinks off Lebanon

Israeli forces yesterday rescued six sailors off the Lebanese coast after stormy weather caused their Israel-bound ship to sink in international waters. Seven of the 13 Ukrainian crew members are still missing at sea.

Sala II, flying a Togo flag, was heading to Haifa Port when it sank some 80 kilometers off Tyre. The Israel Air Force dispatched rescue helicopters and Israel Navy divers to search for survivors.

They found the survivors after they had spent around 18 hours in the water. The rescuers' ships were blown away from the vessel by strong winds and waves. They stayed aboard the sinking ship for as long as possible before abandoning it wearing life jackets.

The sailors told rescue forces that they had seen several of their shipmates drown. A doctor from the emergency medical unit at Haifa's Rambam Medical Center said that one of the survivors, age 49, was taken to the hospital. He was suffering from fatigue and hypothermia.

UNIFIL forces also received a distress call from the ship and dispatched a Turkish vessel to the location, but the ship in trouble sank before the rescuers arrived. One sailor was evacuated by UNIFIL for medical treatment in Lebanon.

Benny Rozansky, an inspector for the Israel Port Authority, said the authority's situation room receives many distress calls every night because some ships send them out automatically when they are rocked by strong waves.

"We contacted a German vessel near the Togo ship, and the German ship's crew said that they recall passing near the Togo freighter and that it looked fine," Rozansky said. "We called the Cypriots for another check and they contacted UNIFIL. Meanwhile, we requested other vessels to navigate to the area and they found the sailors in the water."

The Israel Defense Forces extraction and rescue unit, Unit 669, was then sent to the area aboard search helicopters.

Although the sunken ship was sailing under a Togo flag and its crew was Ukrainian, it was owned by an Israeli company. The company bought the ship after its former owner could not afford to sail it.

Dr. Shlomi Yisraelit, the head of emergency medicine at Rambam Medical Center, said the sailors who had been taken for care in Israel were treated in the army helicopters that rescued them. Their medical condition began to improve in the hospital, except for one in intensive care.

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