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Scores missing after rig disaster, hopes fading

Published time: December 20, 2011 06:53
Edited time: December 20, 2011 22:53

Rescuer ship sailing in the Sea of Okhotsk while searching for survivors of Kolskaya oil rig disaster (AFP Photo / Russian Emergencies) Ministry)

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Two days after an oil rig capsized off Russia's Far East coast, the search for survivors has turned desperate. Dozens are still missing in the freezing waters while the handful of workers rescued remain in hospital on the island of Sakhalin.

­Given the harsh weather conditions and the freezing seas, hopes of finding anyone left alive are rapidly fading. Search and rescue teams made contact with lifeboats and life rafts on Monday, but no survivors were found – largely owing to the fact that the oil rig sank very quickly. Bad weather conditions and rough seas meant many lifeboats were swept over before people could board them.

The death toll mounted steadily on Monday, with only 14 members of the 67-strong crew having been found alive so far.  All were pulled to safety on Sunday, shortly after the rig sank, and were immediately flown to the island of Sakhalin for treatment. According to medical personnel, their condition is relatively good.

Fourteen bodies have been found; 11 of them have been brought to the surface and are being taken ashore, according to RIA Novosti news agency. The vessel carrying the bodies is expected to reach Sakhalin by Wednesday. Nine bodies have been identified by the documents they had on them. 39 workers remain missing.

"The crews of two vessels – the icebreaker Magadan and the supply vessel Smit Sakhalin – are conducting the search at the moment,” Interfax reported, quoting a press release from the Emergency Situations Ministry's Sakhalin region branch. “Vessel Atlas is expected to reach the area of the search operation in the afternoon of December 21."

An Antonov An-74 plane owned by the Far East Aviation Rescue Center of the Russian Emergency Situations Ministry flew over the search area on December 20. Two Mil Mi-8 helicopters are also working in the operation area.

A criminal investigation has been launched by the regional authorities, and the survivors have already been questioned about the details of the incident.

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

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