By Dorothy Davis
A Russian oil rig holding 67 crew members sank off the cost of Sakhalin Island December 18, after hitting a snow storm while being towed by an icebreaker and a tow boat at the end of its drill mission.
"The floating drilling rig capsized 200 kilometers (125 miles) off the coast of Sakhalin island at 12.45 local time," the Emergencies Ministry said in a statement on its website.
The Kolskaya jack-up rig, operated by Russian offshore exploration company Arktikmorneftegazrazvedka (AMNGR) had most recently been engaged in a minor gas production project for a unit of Gazprom and was being towed to a port on the western side of Sakhalin Island when high storm driven waves capsized the vessel.
Officials with the Ministry of Transport said the vessel sank in about 20 minutes after water flowed into the structure through equipment that was most likely damaged as a result of the storm. Regional authorities have already launched a criminal investigation, calling into question the decision to tow the Kolskaya during such harsh winter conditions.
Rescuers have recovered 14 survivors and located 16 bodies so far. Several empty life rafts have also been found; dimming hopes of finding additional survivors among the 37 workers that remain missing due to freezing waters and severe weather conditions.
Sakhalin Island is located in the Sea of Okhotsk, which is a part of the Pacific Ocean bordered by the Kuril Island chain and the eastern coast of Siberia.