Bloomberg News

Russian Rig Death Toll Rises to 11 as Chance for Survivors Fades

December 20, 2011

Dec. 19 (Bloomberg) -- Russian rescue workers recovered 11 bodies from icy waters north of Sakhalin Island after a drilling rig with 67 people on board sank in a storm, according to the local government authorities.

A raft covered by an orange tent was spotted by an airplane, Andrey Bobrov, a spokesman for rig owner OAO Arktikmorneftegazrazvedka, said by phone, citing General Director Yuriy Melekhov. Rescue vessels are trying to reach the raft, he said, adding it was too early to say anything about passengers. That leaves 42 people missing after 14 were saved yesterday.

“Given that the water temperature is about 0 degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit), the chances for survivors are low,” Sergey Viktorov, a spokesman for the Emergency Ministry’s Far East division, said by phone. The operation is continuing after nightfall in the region, he said.

The Kolskaya jack-up rig capsized and sank in a storm in the Sea of Okhotsk yesterday while being towed to Sakhalin. The rig had completed a job off the Kamchatka Peninsula for OAO Gazprom, the world’s biggest natural-gas producer, two weeks earlier.

President Dmitry Medvedev ordered a probe into the accident, according to a statement on the Kremlin website. Investigators consider unsafe towing without taking the weather into account may be the cause of the accident, Russia’s Investigative Committee said on its website.

‘Huge Factory’

The drilling rig was carrying 53 crew and 14 passengers when it went down, at depth of 1,000 meters (3,280 feet), according to the Russian Emergency Situations website. The vessel could accommodate 102 people, according to the company’s website. The crew were highly professional, trained in accordance with international regulations, Melekhov said on Russian state television.

“The rig was like a huge factory, which needed dozens of crew,” Bobrov said. The Kolskaya had undergone capital repairs in February and was in working condition, the company said.

The rig was built in Finland in 1985, according to Arktikmorneftegazrazvedka, a unit of state-run oil producer OAO Zarubezhneft. It had finished working on Dec. 4, and Gazprom had no contractual obligations with the rig’s owner as of Dec. 11, Sergei Kupriyanov, a spokesman for the Moscow-based gas producer, said by phone yesterday.

“Such accidents happen quite often globally, for example in the Gulf of Mexico, during severe storms,” said Vasily Bogoyavlensky, deputy director of the Arctic and World Ocean studies at the Moscow-based Oil and Gas Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

A drilling rig similar to the Kolskaya, called the 60 Years of Azerbaijan, sank in the Caspian Sea in 1983, while the Alexander Kielland, a semi-submersible drilling rig, capsized while working in the Ekofisk oil field in the Norwegian sector of the North Sea in 1980, killing 123, Bogoyavlensky said.

--With assistance from Ilya Khrennikov in Moscow. Editors: Torrey Clark, Alex Devine

To contact the reporter on this story: Anna Shiryaevskaya in Moscow at ashiryaevska@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Will Kennedy at wkennedy3@bloomberg.net


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