13 Dead In Russian Oil Rig Disaster

In Europe, News Headlines, Pollution

Thirteen people have been confirmed dead and dozens more are missing after a Russian oil rig capsized and sank in frigid waters in the country’s far east.

The exploratory oil rig was being towed to Sakhalin Island, north of the Japanese island of Hokkaido, when it flipped over in heavy seas.

Fourteen workers have been rescued but there are grave fears for another 40 crew members still missing.

The rig sank in 20 minutes in waters 1,000 metres deep, with waves as high as five metres.

Regulations forbid the towing of rigs in stormy conditions, and Russian president Dmitry Medvedev has ordered an inquiry into the incident.

“The investigation is looking into safety regulation violations during the towing of the platform and a disregard of poor weather conditions as the main reasons for the incident, as there was a strong storm in the area,” the Investigative Committee said in a statement.

The rig had been searching for oil and gas deposits on behalf of energy giant Gazprom, and the risk of an oil spill from the rig was minimal according to environmental officials.

Anton Prokhorov, an official with the emergencies ministry, declined to say whether there was any hope of finding any more of the missing alive.

“It all depends on weather conditions,” he said.

“People can stay alive in the water for around six hours … then hypothermia begins,” he said, stressing however that instances had been recorded of people surviving in frigid water for longer than six hours.

Rescue hampered
The federal sea and river agency said in a statement that four people in wetsuits were found in the water without any signs of life but rescuers were unable to pull them out because of the poor weather.

Emergencies officials said two of the rescued people were suffering from hypothermia and another two had minor injuries.

Regional ministry spokesman Taimuraz Kasayev said the Kolskaya oil rig had experienced technical problems even before the accident, and had been forced to constantly pump water out of one of its air tanks due to a leak.

The latest disaster comes after 122 people drowned in the Volga river in July when an overcrowded pleasure boat sank in central Russia after capsizing in stormy weather.

The risk of an oil spill from the platform is “minimal”, emergencies ministry official Mr Kasayev said.

“The fuel is in air-sealed tanks, so there is no risk of a spill,” he said.

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