Hopes fade of finding trapped crewmen alive

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Rescuers searching for 15 missing crew members from a capsized freighter off the Norwegian coast today said hopes of finding them alive were fast disappearing.

A third body was recovered from the icy waters outside the port of Bergenn today.

Salvage experts pumped air pockets inside the hull of the overturned freighter, which suddenly capsized yesterday off Norway's western coast, while other rescuers scoured the coastline.

"I think we have to be honest enough to say it would be a wonder if we found people alive in the ship under these conditions," said Harald Andersen, the local sheriff.

Facing bitterly cold weather last night, emergency teams rescued 12 people from the waters or by hauling them a hole cut in the hull of the 544-foot MS Rocknes.

Searchers heard no noises overnight that would have indicatea there were stiull people live inside the hull, according to the Norwegian Rescue Coordination Center.

"We will keeping searching as long as there is hope, and even longer," said Birgit Sildnes, a spokeswoman for the rescue centre.

She said a third victim was found carried 3.5 miles from the wreck by strong currents.

Five Dutch salvage experts flew in to help pump air pockets inside the hull to keep it afloat and stabilize it, in the hope that divers would be able to enter for a search.

As hopes faded for finding more survivors inside the vessel, experts placed containment booms around the wreck to prevent any of more than 500 tons of oil and diesel fuel aboard from spreading.

The freighter, with 29 mainly Filipino crew and the Norwegian ship's pilot aboard, capsized in a narrow inlet between the island of Bjoroey and Norway's western coast, less than 200 yards from land, just after it had put out a distress call.

Witnesses said the freighter, loaded with rocks and headed for Germany, appeared to struggle before it flipped over.

The cause of the accident wasn't yet known, but surviving crewmen told the Bergens Tidende internet edition that the ship had hit bottom or a shoal shortly before capsizing, possibly damaging the hull.

Arleen Asuncion, from the Manila office of Bergen-based boat owner Jebsen Management, confirmed that one Filipino seaman died. Eight Filipinos were rescued and being treated in the Haukeland University Hospital in Bergen, while 15 Filipinos were still missing, she said.

Officials said the water temperature was around 5 degrees Celsius (41 degrees Fahrenheit).

Rescuers welded the first hole shut to prevent water from entering and Mr Andersen said new holes would only be cut if rescuers heard evidence of life inside the wreckage. After the ship is stabilized, they hope to tow the wreck to a nearby dock so divers can enter it.

At least 15 rescue ships and small boats responded quickly, most from a nearby Norwegian naval base. Helicopters buzzed over the scene in the darkness.

Darkness and the extremely slippery surface of the ship's hull, which was covered by patches of ice, complicated the rescue effort.

Atle Jebsen, of Jebsen Management, said the freighter, built in 2001, was a bulk carrier that had been loaded with stone bound for Emden, Germany. He said it was a modern ship, with the latest in equipment, making it difficult to understand what went wrong.