Tue, Dec 20, 2011 - Page 6 News List

Hopes fade for missing Russia rig crew

QUESTIONS:Russian newspapers questioned whether there would have been fewer deaths had more people been taken off the Kolskaya oil rig before being towed

AP and AFP, MOSCOW

Hope was running out yesterday for scores of oil workers missing for more than a day in remote, freezing waters off Russia’s east coast after their floating platform capsized and sank during a severe storm.

The bodies of 14 crew from a sunken oil rig were located Monday off Russia’s Sakhalin island as searches for survivors went into a second day amid fears that 39 missing would not be found alive.

Officials earlier yesterday released conflicting figures of the death toll and the owner of the Kolskaya oilrig even claimed that rescuers had spotted a raft with around 15 possible survivors before backtracking.

“According to the most recent information, 14 dead have been found,” the federal sea and river agency said in a statement, revising downwards the earlier toll of 16.

Transportation prosecutors also put the death toll at 14, while the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations said it had pulled 11 bodies out of the water.

Of the 67 men aboard, 14 were plucked alive from the icy waters immediately after the accident and taken to a hospital.

The emergency situations ministry said there were four vessels, one helicopter and one airplane in the area searching for the missing men. Helicopter shots from the area on the NTV television channel showed nothing floating on the partly ice-bound sea.

Russia produces most of its oil onshore and it hasn’t seen any significant oil platform accidents in the past years.

Yury Melikhov, director of the rig’s owner Arktikmorneftegazrazvedka, told reporters that aircraft had spotted a life raft with about 15 people, but it was not possible to say whether they were dead or alive.

Company spokesman Andrei Bobrov later backtracked on the statement, after transportation prosecutors and the emergency situations ministry said the information was incorrect.

The floating oilrig capsized on Sunday morning as it was being towed about 200km off the coast of Sakhalin Island amid a fierce storm. It started sinking after a strong wave broke some of its equipment and the portholes in the crew’s dining room.

One of the survivors, Sergei Grauman, said on Russian state television that the platform’s portholes were smashed in a second and the crew had struggled to fix them.

“Everyone rushed to the deck,” he told the First Channel station. “It all felt like a movie.”

There has been no report of environmental damage, but any is likely to be negligible because the rig only carried a small amount of fuel.

Russian newspapers speculated whether there could have been fewer deaths if the rig’s owner had taken more people off the rig before it was moved.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has ordered a probe into the disaster, telling officials to provide victims with all necessary assistance.

Russian law allows only a “minimal number of crewmembers” to be aboard the platform while it is being towed and bars any non-crew members or “passengers.”

Reports said that at least 14 people aboard were not crewmembers.

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