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Last oil rig life raft found, no survivors aboard

Published time: December 19, 2011 07:55
Edited time: December 19, 2011 18:48

n undated and unlocated picture released by Arktikmor Neftegaz Razvedka (AMNGR) shows the Kolskaya oil rig (AFP Photo)

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No people have been found on the raft discovered by rescuers, the last of four deployed, at the site where an oil rig capsized on Sunday. So far rescuers have saved 14 of the 67 people who were aboard, with 16 confirmed dead.

This has shattered the initial hopes that 15 more people could have potentially survived more than 24 hours in the freezing waters. Earlier there were conflicting reports saying rescuers have apparently found a raft that could contain around 15 people in the freezing waters off Russia's Far East coast.

Previously the rescuers have found four lifeboats – all of them empty.

Altogether 16 people are now confirmed dead after more bodies were found in the freezing waters. Thirty-seven people are still missing. Fourteen people have been rescued so far, more than a day since the tragedy occurred.

Four vessels, an An-74 plane and two helicopters are involved in search and rescue efforts. Captains of fishing and trade vessels in the vicinity of the accident area were also ordered to take part in the search-and-rescue operation.

The rescue mission is being hampered by the harsh weather conditions in the region with strong winds and waves of four to five meters.

An investigation was launched and survivors will be questioned later in the day. Violations of safety rules and unfavorable weather conditions are seen as the most likely causes of the accident.

"The investigators on Monday will question three crew members who are currently in the central regional hospital in the town of Nogliki, Sakhalin. The remaining nine survivors and crew of the Neftegaz-55 tugboat which transported the rig will be questioned upon their arrival to the port of Korsakovo," a spokesman for the regional investigation department said.

The incident happened December 18, 200 kilometers off Sakhalin Island, when Kolskaya rig was being towed by an icebreaker and a tow boat to Sakhalin Island after finishing its drill mission. 

The conditions at sea at the time have been very severe, with waves up to six meters high and winds of 70 kilometers per hour. A storm damaged two of the rig’s air tanks, which gave buoyancy to the platform and caused the rig to tip over. As a result, the rig tilted and capsized in roughly 20 minutes.

This happened as helicopters were preparing to evacuate 53 crew members and 14 passengers, as staying aboard was deemed too risky in such conditions.

The Kolskaya rig was built in 1985. At 70 meters long and 80 meters wide, it was one of the largest oil rigs in Russia. It was due to set sail for drilling off the Vietnamese coast at the end of its current mission.

The rig incident is the second high-profile maritime disaster in Russia this year. In July, the pleasure boat Bulgaria sank during a cruise on the Volga River in a storm. Of the 201 people on board, 122 died when the ship went down in a matter of minutes. Investigators blamed negligence and violation of safety rules for that incident.

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