MALTA (Pacific Islands Report, Feb. 19) - A Tongan registered merchant vessel with eight crew members on board is reported to have sunk some 180 nautical miles east of Malta.

Di-ve News says the Rescue Coordination Center (RCC) of the Armed Forces of Malta (AFM) is coordinating a search for the crewmembers of TOR 1.

TOR 1 was reported by Malta Radio to be in difficulties in rough seas by its sister ship at approximately 2030 CET on Sunday, February 16.

"AFM reported that RCC Malta immediately started coordinating the rescue with the Rome RCC," said Di-ve News.

"During the night, an Italian SH3D Navy helicopter flew from Catania and a US Navy P3 Orion fixed wing aircraft flew from Sigonella air base to take part in the search," said AFM.

"Several merchant navy vessels which were in the vicinity also proceeded to the area to render assistance."

"One of these, the MV Hermann Oldendorff, spotted a life raft from the lost vessel some 101 nautical miles east of Malta on Tuesday morning."

AFM says the life raft was recovered but did not have any of the crewmembers on board.

In addition to the merchant navy vessels, a US Navy P3 Orion based at Sigonella and an Italian coastguard ATR fixed wing aircraft based at Pescara were still conducting searches in the area on Tuesday morning.

The USS Oscar Austin is coordinating operations at the site of the reported accident, the AFM said.

The 75-meter TOR 1, built in 1972, is owned by a Turkish naval agent and was carrying hundreds of tons of tree trunks.

The Italian coastguard suspected that the vessel sunk after the load shifted from one side to the other due to the high seas, the Italian coastguard was reported as saying.

February 19, 2003

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