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November 2, 2009

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Choppers rescue 37 from freighter

SHANGHAI coastguard choppers rescued all 37 foreigners, including five women and a boy, from an Iranian-registered freighter after it was hit by strong waves and stranded on rocks yesterday morning at the mouth of the Yangtze River.

One crew member was taken to hospital to be treated for a lung problem but remained in stable condition, the rescuers told Shanghai Daily late yesterday.

All others rescued, including another sailor sustaining some cuts and bruises during the shipwreck, are all in healthy condition, rescuers said.

The rescued 37 people include 27 Iranians, five from Pakistan, two from Sri Lanka, one Bangladeshi, one Indian and one Ghanaian, according to the rescue authorities.

Two helicopters with the Shanghai-based Donghai Rescue Bureau, the regional coastguard, had flown on four missions to lift all the stranded victims to safety, said Jin Zhirong, an official with the helicopter rescue team.

The freighter, named Zoorik, hit rocks and became stranded about 5:25am yesterday at the Luhuashan waters at the estuary of the Yangtze River. The ship was at risk of capsizing during the entire rescue mission, Jin said.

Strong winds of up to 117 kilometers an hour and waves, caused by a cold front hitting the region, may have caused the accident, rescuers said.

Donghai Rescue Bureau received a distress call a couple of minutes after the ship hit rocks and launched the rescue mission.

Fierce waves made it impossible for rescue ships to approach the distressed freighter. The rescue was led by two helicopters instead and a ship on the wreck scene assisted.

By noon yesterday, all the 37 people had been flown to Shanghai's Pudong New Area by helicopter.

"This was the largest rescue action completed since the helicopter rescue team was founded in early 2001," Jin told Shanghai Daily.

"Two helicopters flew four missions without stopping and successfully completed the urgent task," Jin said.

A Shanghai shipping agent would arrange accommodation for the sailors and their relatives in the city, according to the rescuers.

A rescue ship was still safeguarding the grounded freighter late yesterday afternoon. The freighter had shown some signs of flooding.

If the weather improves, rescuers may tow the empty freighter to safety, Jin said.


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