Russians stop helicopter search for survivors of drilling rig disaster

A Russian rescue helicopter stopped searching Dec. 21 for 39 presumed survivors of a drilling rig collapse amid a fierce storm off Russia’s east coast. Two ships and a plane are continuing the search.

Initial reports said that at least two people died and 51 were missing in freezing water after the Kolskoye jack up overturned with 67 aboard in Russia's Far Eastern Okhotsk Sea.

Later reports said 16 of the 67-member crew were confirmed as dead, with 14 survivors and 37 people still missing.

The rig was being towed by a tugboat and icebreaker from the Kamchatka peninsula towards Sakhalin Island when it began taking on water after sustaining damage. Crew members were waiting to be evacuated by helicopter, but the platform sank before they could board their rescue rafts.

Analyst Andrew Neff of HIS Global Insight said that the incident marks “another reminder” of the dangers of offshore oil and gas drilling for an industry still recovering from the effects of the Deepwater Horizon semisubmersible fire and explosion in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010.

Neff called the sinking of the Kolskaya jack up “an ominous warning sign” for Russia’s policymakers while oil and gas producers push into increasing difficult areas of the Arctic and the Sea of Okhotsk.

Contact Eric Watkins at hippalus@yahoo.com

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