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Environmental disaster 'ruled out' as Chinese ship sinks in Antarctic, Chile says

Chile's Navy via AP file

Chinese factory fishing ship Kai Xin, pictured burning just off the coast of Antarctica, Friday.

A Chinese factory fishing ship that burned last week off Antarctica has sunk without anyone on board, Chile's navy said Monday. 

The vessel Kai Xin caught fire and its 97 crew members were rescued by a Norwegian ship. Then it began to drift in unmanned and in flames, zigzagging dangerously close to glaciers. 

The Chilean navy said an official representing the ship's owner confirmed that the vessel went down Sunday afternoon near Bransfield Strait at the Antarctic peninsula.

A Chilean navy tugboat was searching for the ship's remains and stood ready to contain any spilled fuel.

The first alert of the sinking came from the Chinese fishing ship Fu Rong Hai, which on its way through Antarctic sent an email to the shipowner saying the Kai Xin no longer appeared on radar. Crewmembers then saw fishing nets and small boats drifting in the chilly waters.

Chile's navy told the Fu Rong Hai to remain there until the navy tugboat Lautaro reached the site and began to search for the sunken ship.

Officials had feared a damaging oil spill. But Capt. Juan Villegas, maritime governor for Chile's portion of Antarctica, said that appeared unlikely now.

"An environmental disaster is ruled out because of the fire on board," Villegas told The Associated Press. "Experts say that if there was any fuel on board it has burned out by now."

The 341-foot Chinese vessel was built in 1990, according to the website of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources.

The Kai Xin was operated by Shanghai Kaichuang Marine International Co., a company that specializes in deep-sea fishing, fisheries products and processing. The ship used pelagic trawling to fish and could sail in loose pack ice, according to the commission.

A company statement posted last week said the fire occurred while the ship was fishing. It said Kaichuang would investigate the cause of the accident and the extent of the damage before releasing more details. 

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