Divers recovery body from sunken gold ship, 8 crew still missing

Search operations at the site of wreck of Amurskaya dry cargo ship in the Sea of Okhotsk (RIA Novosti)
Search and rescue divers have recovered a body from the cargo ship “Amurskaya” that sank in the Sea of Okhotsk at the end of October. The search continues for 8 crewmen who were on board the freighter carrying 700 tonnes of gold ore.

­The ship went down in heavy seas on her way from Kiran to Okhotsk in Russia’s Far East carrying a cargo of gold ore worth an estimated quarter of a million dollars.

It was more than a week before rescuers spotted an oil slick ten miles off shore marking where the vessel went down. The ship was discovered by dive teams from the Emergencies Ministry lying on her port side in 25 metres of water.

An air and sea search was launched looking for the nine man crew despite the extreme weather conditions.

Some experts say the chances of the crew being found alive is now very remote. “The vessel, quite possibly, sank immediately, which means all crew members remained on board. The speed with which it sank is attributed to the structure – initially it was a drag-boat which was remade into a cargo vessel,” said Deputy Chairman of the Russian Sailors’ Trade Union, Nikolay Sukhanov.

However others are not giving up hope. “The storm ladder, absence of people on the bridge, an open door below deck, absence of life rafts all point to the high possibility of the crew attempting to evacuate the sinking vessel,” say representatives of the Federal Agency for River and Marine Transport (Rosmorrechflot).

Russian daily “Komsomolskaya Pravda” quoted one of the relatives of the missing crew, the daughter of Aleksander Stukalov, saying she believes her father is alive: “we believe our father, he’s an experienced sailor, a strong man, he’ll survive.”

A battered life raft was spotted on the coast of an island in the vicinity of the wreck which investigators believe it did come from the freighter.
Accident investigators say they have uncovered evidence the “Amurskaya” was overloaded. The ship was carrying 750 tonnes of cargo, even though it was only allowed to carry 610 tonnes.

Maritime experts believe the cargo could have shifted in the rough seas sinking the vessel.

The owner of the “Amurskaya” has been charged with criminal negligence, leading to the death of two or more persons.

The Russian Investigative Committee says Aleksander Shiltsin personally ordered the vessel to leave the loading docks and head out into the stormy seas. Investigators add Shiltsin knew “Amurskaya” was overloaded.

Investigators also say the vessel was understaffed, carrying only 9 crew members instead of the 11 prescribed for this type of freighters.