CCAMLR, Natasha) EDITORIAL USE ONLY, Associated Press
In this undated photo provided by Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, the South Korean fishing boat Jung Woo 2 is moored in an unknown harbor. Three crew members aboard the fishing boat are believed to have died when a fire raged through their quarters early Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2012, while fishing near Antarctica.

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — A fire raged through the living quarters of a South Korean fishing vessel near Antarctica early Wednesday, killing three crew members and severely burning two others.

Rescue coordinators said the outcome could have been worse had it not been for the assistance given by a nearby sister ship and another fishing vessel. Thirty-seven crew members were rescued, including two unconscious men who had been severely burned and were hoisted off the flaming ship by crane. Five crew members suffered moderate burns.

The Jung Woo 2 was continuing to burn Wednesday and appeared to be sinking, said Mike Roberts, the senior search-and-rescue officer with the Rescue Coordination Centre of New Zealand.

"We're pretty fortunate that we were able to get 37 out of 40 to safety," he said. "It was a really catastrophic event."

Roberts said a distress call was sent a little before 3 a.m. New Zealand time. Vessels working in Antarctica often operate in shifts around the clock thanks to long daylight hours. It's not known how many of the crew on the Jung Woo 2 were asleep when the fire struck.

The fire appears to have started in the living quarters of the 167-foot (51-meter) ship and then quickly spread to the engine room and the vessel's fish processing plant, Roberts said. It raged out of control, with the crew's firefighting teams unable to halt its progress.

Roberts said that 25 men were able to get onto one life raft, but that the fire burned through the ship's other life raft, forcing 12 to stay aboard until help arrived. Three men didn't make it out of their quarters and died, Roberts said, adding that it was not known what sparked the blaze.

The sister ship, the Jung Woo 3, and another Korean vessel, the Hong Jin 707, arrived within about three hours, Roberts said. A U.S. research vessel with onboard medical facilities was steaming toward the rescue boats to treat the injured crew Wednesday and was expected to arrive by the evening.

The two men who were unconscious at the time of their rescue later regained consciousness, raising hopes they will survive their extensive burns, Roberts said.

The Jung Woo 2's captain and some of its senior officers are Korean, while most of the crew is Vietnamese, he said. The crew also includes Indonesian, Russian and Chinese fishermen.

Australian records show the ship is owned by the Sunwoo Corporation and is licensed to fish for Chilean sea bass, crab and other bottom-dwelling fish. The ship was built in 1985 in Japan and is registered in Busan, South Korea.

The ship got into trouble in the Ross Sea about 370 miles (595 kilometers) north of the U.S. McMurdo Station Antarctic base.

When the U.S. vessel Nathaniel B. Palmer arrives, it is expected to initially treat the injured seamen and then put them ashore at McMurdo Base for more extensive help and for possible evacuation to New Zealand, Roberts said.

The Jung Woo 2 is the second fishing vessel within weeks to get into trouble during the Antarctic summer fishing season.

On Dec. 16, the Russian vessel Sparta hit underwater ice, tearing a 1-foot (30 centimeter) hole in the hull and leaving the 32 crew stranded for 10 days, until rescue boats were able to get to it and make temporary repairs. The Sparta limped into a New Zealand port earlier this week.