Treacherous currents force divers to reconsider tug recovery efforts

PUBLISHED : Friday, 28 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 28 March, 2008, 12:00am

The mission to recover bodies from a sunken tugboat off Tuen Mun being carried out by the Fire Services Department may be halted after a third diver encountered a dangerous situation yesterday.

A government source said it was time to consider whether the search for bodies should be halted, as the divers' safety should be the most important concern.

The 2,723-tonne Russian-registered tugboat Neftegaz-67 sank after a collision with the mainland-registered freighter Yaohai in fog near The Brothers islands south of Tuen Mun on Saturday night. Sixteen sailors from the tug are still missing and two bodies have been recovered. Seven crew from the vessel were saved.

'The strong current is too dangerous for the divers,' the source said, adding that the rescue team had done everything it could since the collision.

A diver encountered danger yesterday when his air hose became entangled in floating objects under the water. He suffered from slight decompression sickness.

It was the third time divers had been in peril in two days. On Wednesday, a diver exceeded the safety limit for being underwater and had to remain in a decompression chamber for more than five hours.

Later, another diver's air pipe became entangled inside the hull, and he had to be rescued by a standby diver and underwent decompression for 50 minutes before reaching the surface.

Director of Fire Services Lo Chun-hung said they would do everything they could to recover the bodies, but the dangers of working underwater could alter the approach to the search.

'If the rescue on the seabed becomes too dangerous, which jeopardises the divers' safety, we will make the decision [to halt further diving operations],' Mr Lo said, adding that the risks were assessed each time before diving.

At least 41 diving attempts had been made up to yesterday and six cabins out of 32 had been searched.

The Hua Tian Long, the biggest floating derrick in Asia, which had been due to arrive at the scene today, would not arrive this week, the Guangzhou Salvage Bureau said.

Deputy director He Weizhang said the two barges at the scene were working on the preparations, which could take up to 10 days. Mr Lo said difficulties had been encountered on a route for the Hua Tian Long to enter Hong Kong.