MOSCOW (AP) — Russia vowed Thursday to continue searching a vast area of the frigid Sea of Okhotsk for 13 people missing after a fishing trawler sank, killing at least 56 of the 132 people onboard.
Another 63 were found alive in the icy waters off the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia’s Far East, but the likelihood of finding other survivors appeared tiny, given the harsh conditions.
Russia’s Investigative Committee has begun a probe into possible charges over safety violations in the early Thursday sinking of the Dalny Vostok, which went down in only about 15 minutes.
The emergencies ministry said the area being searched spanned about 8,800 square kilometers (3,500 square miles).
Rescued crew members reported that the ship was unstable because of empty fuel tanks and a lack of ballast, and tipped over when a fishing net weighing 80 tons was pulled in, said Oleg Kozhemyako, acting governor of the nearby Sakhalin region.
Kozhemyako’s comments on Russian television came after the federal Investigative Committee said it was considering all possible causes of the sinking, including the 100-meter (330-foot) trawler hitting an object floating in the sea, possibly drifting ice.
Those saved had managed to get into lifeboats and some had put on wet suits, rescue workers said.
The Dalny Vostok sank at about 4 a.m. local time (1800 GMT Wednesday; 1 p.m. EDT Wednesday). It didn’t send a distress signal.
Video of the rescue operation broadcast on state television showed clear skies and relatively calm seas. The water temperature was near freezing.
Among the people on board, 78 were from Russia, 42 from Myanmar and the rest were from Latvia, Ukraine and Vanuatu.
Pyotr Osichansky, president of the Far Eastern Association of Sea Captains, told Russian television that when the trawler last docked in Russia, in January, it had fewer than 70 crew members. The additional crew members were most likely picked up in Pusan, South Korea, and were working illegally, he said.
The Dalny Vostok, which was built in 1989, was equipped to freeze and can fish.
About 26 fishing boats and 1,300 fishermen and emergency workers were taking part in the rescue operation, scouring the water for survivors and bodies even after darkness fell, said Emergency Situations Minister Vladimir Puchkov.
The fishing boats have recovered 56 bodies so far. The Interfax news agency quoted a local emergency services representative as saying two of the bodies were found Thursday evening — one in a lifeboat 105 kilometers (65 miles) away and the other in the waters nearby.
A Mi-8 helicopter with rescue workers and doctors was deployed to deliver medical help and transport crew members to hospitals in the city of Magadan. The Emergencies Ministry also set up a telephone hotline for families of the crew.
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