12-18-2011, 01:30 PM
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50 Dead Or Missing After Rig Capsized And Sunk
| |At least 50 Russian crew were dead or missing today after an oil rig capsized and sank as it was being towed in a storm.
Fourteen workers were rescued from the stricken rig in the icy Sea of Okhotsk 200 kilometres (125 miles) off Russia's remote eastern island of Sakhalin.
An icebreaker and tugboat recovered four bodies from the water while four survivors suffering from hypothermia, were airlifted by helicopter to land.
They were then taken to hospital by road after the disaster struck at 12:45pm. The Kolskaya rig sank in less than 20 minutes in 20ft waves.
As rescue boats and helicopters hunted for survivors, the water temperature was one degree Celsius (33.8 Fahrenheit), giving survivors around 30 minutes before death, according to maritime and rescue websites.
In a statement on its website, Russia's federal water transport agency said: 'The Kolskaya keeled to its side ... and sank within 20 minutes.'
The 1985-built rig is owned by Arktikmorneftegazrazvedka (AMNGR), a Russian-owned offshore exploration firm.
A company spokesman said: ''There is no ecological danger. The vessel was carrying the minimum amount of fuel as it was being tugged by two craft.'
But the incident will deal 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.
The rig was heading from Kamchatka to Sakhalin when it overturned in stormy winter conditions.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has ordered a probe into the disaster.
'The violation of safety rules during the towing of the drilling rig, as well as towing without consideration of the weather conditions ... are believed to be the cause,' investigators said in a statement on their website.
The 'Neftegaz-55' tugboat, also owned by AMNGR, had been towing the Kolskaya and took part in the search effort, but pulled out after suffering hull damage from the high waves.
The tug, carrying most of the crew rescued from the rig, was taking on water and trying to limp to port. The icebreaker, Magadan was still at the scene.
Russia's prize offshore gas and oil fields lie to the northeast of Sakhalin. Two major offshore projects are already producing oil and gas off the island - Sakhalin-1, operated by Exxonmobil and Sakhalin-2, in which Gazprom has a controlling stake.