Russian rig sinks, more than 50 feared dead

Sun Dec 18, 2011 4:18pm GMT

By Thomas Grove and Melissa Akin

MOSCOW (Reuters) - A drilling rig with 67 crew on board capsized and sank off Russia's far eastern island of Sakhalin on Sunday while being towed through a winter storm, leaving more than 50 dead or missing in the icy Sea of Okhotsk.

Emergency officials said the crew of an icebreaker and tugboat rescued 14 workers alive from the jack-up rig, the 'Kolskaya', which was operated by a Russian offshore exploration firm. They recovered four bodies from the water.

"The Kolskaya keeled to its side ... and sank within 20 minutes. The depth of the water at the site is 1,042 metres (3,400 feet)," Russia's federal water transport agency said on its website.

Four of the survivors, suffering from hypothermia, were airlifted by helicopter to land and taken to hospital after the disaster struck at 12:45 p.m. (1:45 a.m. British time).

The rest of the crew were missing, 200 km (125 miles) off the coast of remote Sakhalin island. The water temperature was one degree Celsius (33.8 Fahrenheit), giving survivors around 30 minutes before freezing to death, according to maritime and rescue websites.

Three rescue craft, as well as helicopters, were sent to scour the waters for survivors from the rig owned by Arktikmorneftegazrazvedka (AMNGR), a unit of state-owned Zarubezhneft.

"There is no ecological danger. The vessel was carrying the minimum amount of fuel as it was being tugged by two craft," said a spokesman for AMNGR.

The incident was a blow to efforts by Russia, the world's largest energy producer, to step up offshore oil and gas exploration to stave off a long-term decline in onshore production.   Continued...

The "Kolskaya" oil drilling rig is pictured in the Kola Bay near Russia's northern seaport of Murmansk in this November 27, 2010 file photo. REUTERS/Andrei Pronin/Files
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