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Maritime search and rescue operation continues
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    The Government maritime search and rescue team is making all-out efforts to search for the 18 missing crew members of a tug, which sank after a collision with a bulk carrier last night.

    Speaking at a press briefing today (March 23), the Director of Marine, Mr Roger Tupper, said, "The top priority of the on-going rescue operation is to locate the missing persons, both inside the vessel and on the sea surface.

    "I have already ordered a comprehensive investigation into the incident. Marine Department (MD) will render assistance to family members of the 18 missing Ukrainian crew. They can contact the MDs Marine Rescue Co-ordination Centre (MRCC) via the tug's shipping agent," he added.

    At about 9.13pm yesterday, an outbound tug Neftegaz 67, flying Ukrainian flag, collided with an inbound China-registered bulk carrier "Yao Hai" east off Brothers Island. The tug, carrying 25 crew members (24 Ukrainians and one Chinese), sank rapidly after the collision.

    Upon receiving report, the Marine Police launch attended the scene at 9.34pm. They were joined by rescue teams from MD, the Fire Services Department (FSD), and the Government Flying Services (GFS). Seven crew members, six Ukrainians and one Chinese, were picked up from the vessel at 9.45pm. The remaining 18 Ukrainian crew were found missing.

    The tug was heading for an oil field south of Hong Kong from Chiwan, Shenzhen. Six of the eight containers carried by the tug were also picked up.

    The bulker "Yao Hai", with 25 crew members on board, had bow damage and is now anchored in Yam O. No injury or missing person was reported.

    A total of more than 20 government launches and helicopters were deployed to scene, including 10 police launches, 6 marine launches, 5 FSD vessels, and 4 GFS helicopters.

    A hydrographic survey vessel joined the search operation and subsequently located the wreck at about 4am this morning. The tug had drifted some few hundred meters from the collision site, lying upside down on the seabed in a depth of 37 meters.

    FSD divers had made nine attempts to get into the vessel.  But due to strong current, poor underwater visibility, and the depth of the wreck, could not find any hatch opening to get inside.

    MD had called for salvage operator to join the rescue operation and the company arrived at 1.30pm this afternoon, to prepare to move the wreck to shallow water, where a better environment can be organized to facilitate the search.

Ends/Sunday, March 23, 2008
Issued at HKT 19:15

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