Hopes fade for survivors of rig disaster

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The Independent Online

Rescuers said yesterday it would be a miracle if they found anyone else alive after a drilling rig sank with 67 people on board in the icy seas off Russia's eastern coast.

The Kolskaya rig, working for a unit of the state-controlled gas-export monopoly Gazprom, sank 125 miles off Russia's Sakhalin Island on Saturday.

Of those on board, 14 were saved by vessels based at the rig, but six-metre high waves and temperatures of -7C hindered rescue efforts. Sixteen bodies had been found. A total of 37 people are unaccounted for in the Sea of Okhotsk.

"Until all the people are found the rescue operation will not be concluded," Natalya Salkina, a federal transport spokeswoman, said. Asked how likely it was that anyone would be found alive, she said: "You can always hope for a miracle."

The seas on Russia's far eastern coast often freeze in winter and such harsh conditions – including freezing air temperatures and biting winds – would leave any survivors badly exposed unless they could find dry cover on the choppy seas.

Slim hopes of finding survivors were raised when the rig owner said navy aircraft had spotted a raft floating with people on it.

"Aircraft from the Pacific fleet have found a raft. There are people on it," said Andrei Bobrov, a spokesman for the owner of the rig,

But rescuers played down the information and it could not be confirmed with the Navy.